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Common contamination issues in building specific water systems

biofilm and bacteria
microbiological culture in pipes
Reasons For Contaminated Systems 
There are many reasons why a water system can become contaminated with pathogens such as Legionella or Pseudomonas. It is likely that the pathogens are already in any water system, but at low concentrations where they will not have any effect on health. Problems arise when the pathogens are able to reach high concentrations and where there is also an exposure route. 

The reasons that contamination occurs in the pipework can include water temperatures, over-sized pipework (or other installation mistakes), long travel distances, long stagnation phases, short circuits in the cold water/warm water system, dead legs, not enough thermal disinfection, retrograde contamination or simply a growing bio-film colony in the hot and cold water systems. The age of the system is one of the less important factors, though the older the system the higher the chance for dead legs and areas of stagnation. In addition the piping materials have an influence on the speed and extent of bacterial colonisation i.e. iron is a source of nutrients for bacteria and is a good growing medium for biofilm, copper is mildly phytotoxic and plastic makes a good base for biofilm.  

Hospitals (Daily Hospitals, Rehabilitation Units, Doctors-Offices) 
Hospital water systems are typically very complex facilities and often host Legionella and Pseudomonas. There are usually lots of rooms with a lot of taps, plus areas such as operating theatres and medical and therapeutic facilities, in which the water that is used needs strict hygiene control. It is common to find that the water systems are older, often constructed with iron pipes and often have over-sized pipework that are prone to stagnation.

The continuous contact between water and higher risk human groups poses another challenge for the responsible person at these facilities. The quality of the water system is typically assessed and maintained through regular water testing, however, it should be noted, that even if you follow best practice guidelines problems do occur. 

Due to the 24-hour operation of hospitals thermal and chemical disinfections are hard to undertake, as there is a potential chemical or scald risk to patients and staff. The exposure route is often via the shower and thermal treatment is not present beyond the thermal mixing valves.

In these establishments you can often find rising pipe systems which service a multitude of taps and showers on each floor level and that quite often serve many braches. Through extensions and renovations there are often inconsistent and amended pipe systems and some stagnant lines and deadlegs may be present. The water in the main pipe network is usually circulated through a pumped system. 

In many cases the rooms can stay empty for extended periods and the water stands idle in the pipes and valves until the next guest arrives and uses the shower, during this time bacteria such as Legionella and Pseudomonas may colonise the system. Additionally in a lot of units the mixing water temperature is below 45°C to reduce the danger of scalding (very important if you have dementia or diabetes patients). 

In general it is assumed that in carehomes there is a 24-hour useage and discontinuous disinfection tratments, such as themal or chemical disinfections are hard to administer. The exposure route is often via the shower and thermal treatment is not present beyond the thermal mixing valves.

Sport and Fitness Facilities (Gyms, sports halls)
In sport and fitness facilities the pipe sturctures are usually simple and easy to understand. The pipes come from the boiler / calorifier / heat plate and lead to the shower and wash rooms and then enter a circulaton system. In these facilities it is common to deliver the water at temperatures below 45°C to avoid scalding, this means that the section of the pipeline after the thermal mixing valve is never effectively thermally disinfected. 

One of the problem issues with these facilities is the non-usage times (school / university holidays etc.) when the systems are not in use. Thermal disinfection is possible during the night when the facilities are not in use, but does not work beyond the thermal mixing valves.  

Swimming Pools
Swimming pools are typically quite complex systems with both sanitation and the heat systems. Due to the warm and wet climate lots of micro-organisms find ideal living conditions and replicate quite well in these surroundings. Therefore special attention should be given to the proper isolation of cold water systems, which should also be included into all disinfections treatments. 

 In these facilities it is common to deliver the water at temperatures below 45°C to avoid scalding, this means that the section pipeline after a thermal mixing valve is never effectively thermally disinfected.

Apartment Building and Commercial Rental Properties
In large living complexes you find a lot of risers (rising pipes) which lead to the various levels. They typically supply many taps and tend to be very complex piping systems. In older buildings you tend to find irrational piping systems with a lot of risers present. Through a distribution point at the building boiler room the pipes go to the different levels and the water gets pumped back through a circulation system. 

In many cases guest rooms, holiday apartments and vacant rental apartments are not occupied over a long period of time and the water is standing idle in the pipes and fittings. In general it can be assumed that in apartment buildings you have a 24-hour usage time and discontinuous disinfection like thermal and chemical disinfections are difficult to administer.

Hotels and Guest Facilities
One of the most basic requirements in every tourist accomondation should be cleanliness and hygiene. A high water quality is a basic requirement for the operator. Guests of hotels use water not only for their bodily hygiene, but also drink the water directly from the tap. To guarantee drinking water quality throughout a hotel is a challenge. Hazardous germs and bacteria preferably form in standing water in the pipes, warm tap water offers an ideal surrounding for germ growth. 

In a large pipe systems, as is present in a hotel, the drinking water is exposed to a high risk of bacterial growth, due to the large and complex pipe structures there is also a high risk that the water stagnates. An additional risk for the accomondation facilities is the fluctuation of occupancies; Hotels are quite often not continuously fully occupied, this leads to a situation were the drinking water stays idle in the piping systems (therefore it is very important to rotate the occupancies).    The exposure route is often via the shower and thermal treatment is not present beyond the thermal mixing valves.

Commercial Businesses
The pipes usually run below the floor or through the roof space to the various sanitation units and join at the last tap with the circulation system. Often cold water systems are located in loft spaces where they can become very warm during the summer months. Different heating systems and additional water systems lead to a complex pipe systems. Attention should be paid to the isolation of the cold water system, as heat from machines, production units and offices can leach into the cold water system causing raised cold water temperatures. 

The amount of water used depends a lot on the working hours and the type of operation undertaken. A working shift system can lead to spikes in the usage separated by long stagnation periods. 

Sanitation Of Existing Units 
During or after renovations an increase in the micro-biolgoical counts in drinking water systems is often observed. This occurs in areas where parts of the buildings water system are unused or static for a number of days, micro-organisms find this an ideal breeding ground and grow rapidly. Even if all the systems were emptied before the start of the construction, there is still enough residual water in the systems to form an ideal breeding ground for the micro-organisms. 

Similar problems occur for newly constructed buildings. New pipe systems lay for days on a construction site before they get installed, during this period they get contaminated. After installation there is usually a pressure test with water, and often a disinfection treatment, however there are often long periods before the installation is properly used. These timeframes give micro-organisms ideal breeding conditions. Also in new installations biofilm can form over a period of time on the inner walls of the pipes and other water carrying technical devices, in which microorganisms can form and grow. 

How the Aquadron Addresses Legionella
The Aquadron treats all of the water that passes through the system, it does this by proportionally dosing all of the water with Anolyte, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Anolyte passes through the whole system, removing biofilm and killing bacteria, it even works in the shower heads and taps, at a point that is beyond the thermal mixing valves and that is not protected by thermal treatment. This ensures that Legionella colonies can not form in the pipework system.

Once the system has been disinfected it is possible to operate without the thermal barrier, this means that water temperatures can be reduced. This saves energy and money - the net effect is that you get improved water treatment with far higher levels of safety and energy savings pay for the system. Click here for details of the potential cost savings.

Click here for more details on the Aquadron Legionella System.

Click here for project examples in hospitals and care homes.
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