Scientists from the University of Michigan (U-M) have recently conducted a research on the origins of bacterial microorganisms in tap water, and found that they originate in the filters used by wastewater treatment facilities.
Previously, it was believed that these bacteria originated in the water sources (aquifers, lakes or rivers) themselves, and that they somehow got past disinfection procedures. The new investigation shows that this is not the case.
The U-M scientists analyzed the water supply for the city of Ann Arbor, where the university is located. They followed the route the water takes from the source to the tap, including as it passed through treatment facilities.
According to the team, the results of this analysis could be used to inform the development of more sustainable water treatment processes and practices. The goal would be to use fewer chemicals for cleanup procedures.
At this time, the amount of substances in use at treatment plants leads to the creation of large amounts of byproducts, some of which can lead to substantial health risks. Others may promote the development of microorganisms.
Taking this research even further, it may be possible for water engineers of the future to control the selection of organisms available in the water supply. The goal would be to select only beneficial and useful bacteria.
Researchers liken this practice to selecting the “live and active cultures” that are introduced in yogurt.
“A major goal right now in drinking water treatment is to kill all bacteria because there's the perception that all bacteria are bad. But there's a good bit of scientific literature that says there are good bacteria, innocuous bacteria and bad bacteria,” Ameet Pinto explains.
“If we can better understand the types of bacteria in the microbial community from source to tap and what processes control it, perhaps we can be more effective at controlling which ones get through,” adds the expert, a University of Glasgow lecturer formerly based at U-M.
“We hope to begin research to explore how to improve public health by engineering drinking water treatment plants to impact the drinking water microbiome, perhaps by promoting growth of beneficial microbes that outcompete pathogenic microbes,” U-M expert and study leader, Lutgarde Raskin, says.