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Get Info | Bacteria

What are Bacteria?

Bacteria come in three basic shapes (there are a few exceptions) and their descriptive classification is based on those shapes: 

  • Round or Spherical [Coccus]
  • Rod-shaped [Bacillus] (also known as Coliform Bacteria) 
  • Spiral Shaped - The spiral-shaped bacteria are subdivided into: comma-shaped, or curved rods [Vibrio], a long, thin, flexible corkscrew shape [Spirochete], and a more rigid corkscrew shape [Spirillum]. 

The table below includes some examples of the various bacteria types and diseases they might cause (not all of them cause disease in humans nor are in water)

Disease Causing Bacteria
Bacteria Type Disease
Staphylococcus aureus [Coccus] 'Staph' infections
Escherichia coli [Bacillus] Common in our intestines and feces, pronounced 'esker reekia' and usually abbreviated as E. coli
Bacillus anthrax [Bacillus] Anthrax
Vibrio cholerae [Vibrio] Cholera (no surprise here)
Helicobacter pylori [Spirillum] Stomach ulcers
Treponema pallidum [Spirochete] Syphilis
Borrelia burgdorferi [Spirochete] Lyme disease

Bacteria in Water that Commonly Cause Disease
Bacteria Type Disease
Legionella Legionnaires' disease
Vibrio cholerae Cholera
Salmonella bongori & Salmonella enterica Salmonellosis
Salmonella typhi Typhoid Fever
Campylobacter jejuni Campylobacteriosis
Shigella Dysentery
A specific variety of E. Coli (not most E. coli Verotoxic E. Coli


There are other bacteria that do not cause disease but which can affect the water quality, one good example being Crenothrix. Crenothrix is one of a group of Iron-Reducing Bacteria which get energy by converting iron compounds in the ground when there is very little oxygen present (an anaerobic or reducing environment) into a form of iron (ferrous iron, Fe⁺⁺) which is soluble in water, in the process producing hydrogen sulfide gas (H₂S).

The result is that the groundwater becomes saturated with dissolved iron (iron water) and smells like rotten eggs (the hydrogen sulfide gas – sulfur water). When pumped out of a well and exposed to the oxygen of the air (an aerobic or oxidizing environment), the ferrous iron quickly oxidizes to the much less soluble ferric iron (Fe⁺⁺⁺) which promptly precipitates, creating bright reddish-orange stains [ferric hydroxide, Fe(OH)₃] all over your plumbing and, if you were washing laundry, all over your clothes. Crenothrix and its colleagues like to make a protective slime (biofilm) that can block the movement of water into a well, thereby affecting not only the water quality but its quantity too.

Did You Know?
For the Garden Warriors - "A gram of soil typically contains about 40 million bacterial cells."
For the Weekend Backpackers -"A milliliter of fresh water usually holds about one million bacterial cells."

How Do Bacteria Become a problem?

Bacteria can be a problem in humans because it can make you sick. From the introduction, bacteria can cause disease, i.e., be pathogenic. Waterborne disease causing bacteria can include E. coli, Leptospirosis, Vibrio cholerae (Cholera), Salmonella typhi (Typhoid) and many more. In some cases, bacteria that may not normally be associated with a disease may become opportunistic for an individual or an animal, such as: dog, cat, horse, or cattle, that has a compromised immune system or under significant stress. The presence of these organisms can suggest that other waterborne pathogens are present or if the water was treated the treatment process was not effective.

Bacteria can also cause nuisances, such as: odors, slimy coatings, films, corrosion, i.e., MIC - Microbiologically Induced Corrosion, failures or poor performance of water related and other equipment.

What are the Standards for Bacteria?

Primary standards are based on health considerations, and are designed to protect people from three classes of toxic pollutants: pathogens, radioactive elements, and toxic chemicals. Bacterial contamination falls under the category of pathogens. Testing for all individual pathogens is impractical and expensive. Instead, the EPA has designated total coliform bacteria as a standard to determine bacterial safety of the water. Coliform Bacteria originate in the intestinal tract of warm-blooded animals and can be found in their wastes. Coliform bacteria can also be found in soil and on vegetation. Coliform bacteria are relatively simple to identify and are present in much larger numbers than more dangerous pathogens. Coliform bacteria are in the natural environment and are treated in a manner and degree similar to pathogens. By monitoring coliform bacteria, the increase or decrease of many pathogenic bacteria can be estimated. Bacteria are regulated as a potential health concern. Regarding the primary drinking water standards or health based standards, the concentration of total coliform bacteria and E. coli should be Absent, Negative, or < 1 colony-forming unit per 100 mls ( cfu/100 ml).

Bacteria can also be associated with nuisance issues and corrosion that may exceed primary or secondary drinking water standards. A water sample with an elevated level of bacteria may cause the water to have an aesthetic issue that impacts the taste, odor, appearance, or use of the water and if the bacteria cause corrosion, the bacterial coating may impact the level of Copper, Lead, Iron, Arsenic, and other trace metal content of the water. For this reason, we may recommend additional testing for standard plate count or heterotrophic bacteria or Nuisance Bacteria like Iron Bacteria, Sulfate Bacteria, or Slime Bacteria. No specific sanitary significance or health standards have been indicated for non-pathogenic non-coliform bacteria other than a total heterotrophic bacteria count or standard plate count of < 500 colonies per ml. For the nuisance related bacteria, the bacteria should be present at a level that does not cause or promote a nuisance.

Get Tested | Bacteria

Testing for all individual pathogens is impractical and expensive. Coliform bacteria are relatively simple to identify and are present in much larger numbers than more dangerous pathogens. There are a number of good quality DIY bacterial screening tests, but the best option is always a certified laboratory test. Coliform Bacteria react to the natural environment and treatment processes in a manner and degree similar to pathogens.

Level 1 | Observational Self-Testing

Level 1 Testing is done with simple observations that an individual can make with their own senses such as sight, smell, and taste. These observations can be readily apparent or can be observed as they change over time. In addition, accessible related information about the home can also be used to narrow down the cause of your water issues.

Observations for Bacteria

You may suspect that your problem with your water is caused by a bacterium, if you notice one or more of these warning signs:

  • The water has an odor that is not chemical in nature, but appears earthy, musty, sulfur-like, sewage-like, or generally unpleasant.
  • When the water sets, the surface of the water has a metallic sheen that when you break it appears stays apart and has angular edges.
  • You observed slimy coatings or bacterial growth or you have been told by a plumber or other professional that pipe corrosion is being caused by “MIC” (microbiologically induced corrosion).
  • You are experiencing gastrointestinal issues.
Level 1 | Self-Test Web App
To do a quick and easy self diagnosis of your water, click the button below.
Launch

Level 2 | Do-It-Yourself Testing

Level 2 Testing is Do-It-Yourself testing that can be done in your own home using a Testing Kit. After you’ve done Level 1 Testing, Level 2 Testing can confirm if your observations are correct. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment (see below) or continue to Level 3 Testing.

Notes on Level 2 Testing for Bacteria

There are meters that can field check the bacterial level of water and surfaces by checking the ATP content of the water, but these units are expensive and require experience to use and maintain. The standard screening test for a bacterial problem is testing for the “Coliform” group of bacteria, such as: Total Coliform and E. coli. This group of bacteria is not the only bacterial or Microbiological group that can cause a water quality problem or health concern, but it is a good first step in determining and understanding your situation. The most cost-effective first step would be to use one of the Do-It-Yourself in-home screening tests for Total Coliform group.

Recommended Level 2 Tests
National Testing LabsWaterCheck® Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
National Testing LabsCityCheck Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
Tap ScoreMold and Fungus

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Musty, Foul Odors</div>

View
Tap ScoreTotal Microbiological Test

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Sewage Odors</div>

View
Crystal QuestThunder 4000M Reverse Osmosis System with UV

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View
Crystal QuestUltraviolet Water Sterilizer System, 6-12 GPM

<div class="product-note in-L6-color-taste-odor">Note: Requires a prefiltration system</div>

View
Recommended Products
National Testing LabsL3-NATE-W-4 | WaterCheck® Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
National Testing LabsL3-NATE-C-3 | CityCheck Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
Tap ScoreL3-TASC-M-02 | Mold and Fungus

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Musty, Foul Odors</div>

View
Tap ScoreL3-TASC-T-02 | Total Microbiological Test

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Sewage Odors</div>

View
Crystal QuestLT-CRYS-T-01 | Thunder 4000M Reverse Osmosis System with UV

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View
Crystal QuestLT-CRYS-U-02 | Ultraviolet Water Sterilizer System, 6-12 GPM

<div class="product-note in-L6-color-taste-odor">Note: Requires a prefiltration system</div>

View

Level 3 | Informational Testing

Level 3 Testing is done through an accredited Water Testing Laboratory. With Level 3 Testing, you can order a testing kit that is used to prepare your sample and submit it to the lab. By utilizing a lab, you have the assurance that a certified water expert had analyzed your water sample. If your test results reveal the presence of a contaminant that is cause for concern, you can either proceed to determine the best treatment options (see below) or continue to Level 4 Testing - Certified Testing.

Notes on Level 3 Testing for Bacteria

This testing helps to confirm and identify a bacterial problem using a third party and controlled testing environment using approved testing methods, but at a reasonable cost. This testing is primarily for informational purposes to help identify and understand the nature and cause of a suspected problem associated with bacteria. If you also have a corrosion problem or suspect a more serious waterborne pathogen, you may need to review these topics Corrosion Issues and Waterborne Pathogens.

Recommended Level 3 Tests
National Testing LabsWaterCheck® Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
National Testing LabsCityCheck Standard

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View
Tap ScoreMold and Fungus

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Musty, Foul Odors</div>

View
Tap ScoreTotal Microbiological Test

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Sewage Odors</div>

View
Crystal QuestThunder 4000M Reverse Osmosis System with UV

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View
Crystal QuestUltraviolet Water Sterilizer System, 6-12 GPM

<div class="product-note in-L6-color-taste-odor">Note: Requires a prefiltration system</div>

View

Level 4 | Certified Testing

A Level 4 Certified Test Test uses chain-of-custody with a water professional coming to your home to prepare the water sample and then works with an accredited laboratory in order to certify your test results. This type of testing not only gives you the highest level of assurance in the accuracy of your test results, but can also be used as a document in legal cases. For Baseline Testing, we recommend that you use Certified Testing.

Notes on Level 4 Testing for Bacteria

This testing will require an unbiased “third party” to collect the necessary water quality samples. In many cases, the observations and diagnostics conducted in Level 1, screening testing in Level 2 and Level 3 will be an asset and aid in determining the number, type, and location of this “certified” testing. In many cases, Level 4 testing is associated with a regulated activity, legal action, or real-estate transfer.

Get Treatment | Bacteria

For a bacterial problem is it critical to know the source of the water and the cause. If this is a city water source, it is likely there is regrowth in the distribution system for the system and there are inadequate chlorine residuals to inhibit this regrowth or there was a failure in the pretreatment system operated by the Water Authority. In this case, it is not likely you have an E. coli problem and you may be able to use a “Class B” NSF approved disinfection system. If the source of water is from a well, you may need to have the well inspected, because the cause may not be because the aquifer is contaminated, but is a problem with the well construction and installation. In this case, you may need to use a Class A UV Disinfection system, chlorination, or other treatments such as Ozonation.

Notes:

Class A UV Disinfection Systems are designed for sources that are considered microbiologically unsafe. The Class A system “ (40 mJ/cm2) is designed to disinfect and/or reduce microorganisms, including bacteria and Viruses, from contaminated water to a safe level. Class A systems may claim to disinfect water that may be contaminated with pathogenic bacteria, Viruses, Giardia or Cryptosporidium.” (Source: NSF). If the water contains, E. coli, it is more likely that the water will contain a waterborne pathogen. (Please Note: If the source of water is a community or regulated water supply, the EPA and most state agencies will not consider a Class A UV Disinfection adequate and it is more likely you will need to install a disinfection system that provides 4-log removal) and provides a disinfection residual.

Class B UV Disinfection Systems are not intended to be used on water that is classified as microbiologically unsafe. “Class B systems (16 mJ/cm2) are designed for supplemental bactericidal treatment of public water, i.e., no elevated levels of E. coli or a standard plate count of less than 500 colonies per 1 ml. or other drinking water that has been deemed acceptable by a local health agency. Class B systems may claim to reduce normally occurring nuisance microorganisms. (Source: NSF)

Short Term

The short-term actions depend on the source of your water.

Public/City Water - If it is a city water source, the options would be to boil the water, i.e., 3- minute rolling boil, as a precaution or consider using an alternative potable or bottled water source. If you suspect the problem is the regrowth of bacteria within the distribution system of the home or structure, you may want to “Shock Disinfect” and flush the piping, check for backflow issues or cross-connections, and then retest the water for bacterial contamination. If the problem is at the source or water main controlled by the Authority or water company, they will need to flush the lines, complete repairs, and increase chlorine residuals. It is likely you will be notified there is a “Boil Water Advisory”.

Private/Well Water Source – If this is a well water source, we suggest boiling the water or using a bottled water source for all potable water needs. This would include water used for brushing teeth, consumption, and, depending on the bacterial agent, direct human contact such as washing yourself. The well should be inspected and camera-surveyed to determine if there are any observable construction defects and it may be advisable to divert near-surface water away from the well and install a sanitary well cap. If there are no observable defects, it would be advisable to Shock Disinfect the well and distribution system and to pasteurize your “hot” water lines. After this has been accomplished, the water should be retested for bacterial contamination and we would recommend a first flush sample and a flushed water sample. This would help to identify whether the cause of any residual problem is within the distribution system of the home or at the source.

Recommended Short-Term Treatments

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Musty, Foul Odors</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Sewage Odors</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-color-taste-odor">Note: Requires a prefiltration system</div>

View
Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

Not Up for A DIY, have a series of issues or need help Identifying a local KnowYourH20Team Professional? Contact Us

Long Term

For Public/City Water users, the long-term solution will need to be implemented by your water company or Authority. Typically, these systems are regulated by state and federal agencies, and it is likely these agencies will require the implementation of a 4-log disinfection system and modification to the distribution system for the community.

For Private/Well Water users, the solution may be a modification or improvement of the source and/or the installation of a disinfection system that may include UV Disinfection (Class A or Class B), Chlorination, or some other form of disinfection.

In developing short-term and long-term solutions, we strongly recommend working with a “certified” professional, if you need assistance with finding or identifying certified professionals in your area, please Contact the KnowYourH2O Team.

Recommended Long-Term Treatments

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L4-sulfur-treatment">Note: Use in combination with Sulfate-Reducing Bacteria Test</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Musty, Foul Odors</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-dissolved-gasses">Note: For Carbon Dioxide, Sewage Odors</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-bromate">Note: If the concentration is < 0.01 mg/L (POU Device System Component)</div>

View

<div class="product-note in-L6-color-taste-odor">Note: Requires a prefiltration system</div>

View
Contact a KnowYourH2O Recommended Professional

If you have a total Bacteria count > 500 colonies per ml or E. coli positive or more issues and are not up for A DIY, Contact Us to connect with a recommended Local KnowYourH20 Professional .

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