Archive for July, 2009
Last week we talked about biofilm, the microscopic colony of bacteria that lives where water, bacteria and any surface meet. Scientists who study bacteria in the laboratory have known about biofilm for 10-15 years. It has taken that long for the laboratory bench research to impact our daily lives and biofilm impacts just about everything. Think about it: combine water, a surface and bacteria and you have instant biofilm.
Biofilm: A Slime City
A recent article in the July/August 2009 issue of Discover by Wendy Orent called “Slime City” talked about biofilm and its impact on medicine and implanted medical devices. She did a great job describing what is known about biofilm and how it causes serious diseases and problems in the body. View the article: http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jul-aug/17-slime-city-germs-talk-each-other-plan-attacks/?searchterm=Slime
The same biofilm that coats medical devices, your teeth, or an infected bone or wound covers every surface of your pool or spa. All disinfectants such as chlorine, bromine, ozone, cooper or silver are effective killers of bacteria that swim in the water. Unfortunately, that’s only 1-2% of the bacteria that populate a pool or spa. The rest are safely protected from the disinfectants by biofilm.
The colony in biofilm is static. It is alive just like a city. The bacteria move, send off microscopic streamers of biofilm containing bacteria to settle on other surfaces, send off microscopic balls of biofilm to roll along the surface to start a new colony, and provide a nursery for bacteria to multiply and replace those that die off.
A Slime City in your pool or spa?
You see the effects of the biofilm streamers when your spa forms foam on the surface of the water. Biofilm free water in a spa doesn’t foam. The air bubbles injected into the water from the jets come to the surface and pop. Biofilm in pools and spas cause the rings and scale on the pool sides. It also causes cloudy water.
Recently, the scientists at the Center for Biofilm Engineering at Montana State University (http://www.erc.montana.edu/) discovered that biofilm causes corrosion of metals. At the interface of the metal surface and the biofilm the pH is around 1 and there is a small electrical current produced by the bacteria. The combination can cause electrolysis of almost all metals.
Think of your spa or pool’s heater cores, motors, seals and metal fittings. The microscopic biofilm is slowly eating the metal causing mechanical failures that are costly to replace.
The take home message is that biofilm is a major contributor and cause of most problems in pools and spas. So, how do you get rid of it? Tune in next week for more.
As part of their 50th ‘Golden Anniversary’ of service to the international water treatment industry, Water Conditioning and Purification magazine announced its first annual Top 50 Awards. Dr. Knighton, Co-founder and President of Creative Water Solutions, LLC was named along with 49 other industry leaders, for his contribution that “is revolutionizing water clarity/quality best practices with sphagnum moss to condition water, reduce chemicals and mitigate biofilm accumulation.” Read more at http://www.wcponline.com/pdf/0906Top50Awards.pdf.
Where were you when the first human foot made an imprint on the moon 40 years ago?
I was in Ferkessedougou, Ivory Coast working at a mission station for the summer between my sophomore and junior year of college. I spent part of my time doing maintenance and the other helping with surgery. I remember listening to the short wave radio as we heard Voice of America describe the landing. It was night and there was a bright African full moon. After they landed I went outside and looked at the moon marveling at the advances in technology that allowed that human footprint on the lunar surface.
The next morning I excitedly told my co-worker, in my broken French, what happened the night before. He asked me “How long did it take them to get there?” “Three days was my answer.” He thought a while and then said, “The moon is as far away as Buoake.” Buoake is a three-day walk from the mission station.
His frame of reference was completely different than mine and in a way both were accurate.
A Different Understanding
That experience is very similar to what is happening in the understanding of how bacteria live in pools and spas. The old, accepted model says that bacteria like to swim and remain suspended in the water. We now know that 99% of bacteria in water swim to the nearest surface, attach themselves, and set up a microscopic colony that is protected by a layer of sticky protein and sugar molecules we call biofilm.
The biofilm protects the bacteria from chlorine or other chemicals put into the pool to control bacteria. In fact it absorbs chlorine, bromine or ozone so a lot has to be added to the pool to maintain proper levels. As we study biofilm in our laboratory and more fully understand how it affects pools, spas and any other system where water, bacteria and a surface are present, we are convinced that most of the water problems plaguing the recreational water experience are due to biofilm.
The bad news is that bacteria protect themselves with biofilm and that all the chlorine, bromine, ozone, cooper, silver, UV light or other systems that only affect bacteria suspended in water are totally ineffective against bacteria protected with biofilm. The good news is that we are discovering that the sphagnum moss in SpaNaturally and PoolNaturally may be nature’s answer to controlling biofilm.
While this research may not compare with the accomplishment of Apollo 11, in the future we’ll know that cleaner, safer water with fewer chemicals was a dream fulfilled through the scientific effort of hundreds of scientists who transformed our understanding of how bacteria live and protect themselves.
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