Archive for the ‘Biofilm’ Category
Regions Hospital, St. Paul, MN, is the first hospital in Minnesota to use Sphagnum moss to treat the water in its therapy pool. The moss treatment system is part of HealthPartners Health Goals 2014. Read more
Swimming Performance and Disinfection Byproducts: Biocides, Biofilm and PoolNaturally® Plus
By David Knighton MD
Co-Founder and CEO of Creative Water Solutions and PoolNaturally® Plus
Walk into a building with a pool and you can instantly tell it’s there by the smell. No matter how big the building, small the pool, or robust the heating and ventilation system, that characteristic “chlorine” smell is there. If you are like me, a few minutes of exposure to the smell will bring tightness to my chest, itching to my eyes, and after about 20 minutes a light headed feeling. Go outside and it all goes away in about an hour. Swim and it can take days to return to normal. Competitively swim or swim daily and you probably get so used to the air you become acclimated to the irritation of disinfection byproducts (DBP). In the past few years, a lot of research has defined what causes this smell, what effect it has on swimmers, and what can change the creation of DBP’s so the pool becomes a “you don’t know there is a pool until you see it” experience.
How are DBP’s formed?
DBP’s are formed when chlorine, bromine or any halide molecule used to kill bacteria in the water, combines with biologic molecules that contain carbon and nitrogen. The most prevalent molecule in the swimming environment is urea from urine and sweat. Urea undergoes chemical changes in the pool and combines with chlorine or bromine to form over 30 different DBP’s. Some of these molecules stay in the water and others are volatile so they diffuse into the air above the water and eventually into the entire building. The act of swimming actually increases the concentration of DBP’s by churning up the water and increasing the concentration of these molecules in the air.
What Effects do DBP’s have on people?
We know a lot about the effect of one DBP – chloroform – since it was the most commonly used anesthetic for decades. The fancy name for this class of DBP is trihalo-methane (THM). There are many different THM’s with different effects on people, just like there are many different types of DBP’s that have different effects on people. We will look at chloroform and trichloronitrate.
Chloroform inhaled at a concentration of 10,000 ppm puts you to sleep. Prolonged exposure at this very high level will kill your liver, depress your heart function and kill you. In human volunteers, exposure to 4,100 ppm causes serious disorientation and 1,000 ppm causes dizziness, nausea, fatigue and headaches. Prolonged exposure to as little as 10 to 200 ppm can cause liver enlargement and effects on the central nervous system. For a reference, we have measured THM concentrations in commercial indoor pools in the 2 – 3 ppm range.
Application of chloroform to the skin causes redness of the eyes and itching of the skin. One study of people exposed to low levels of chloroform in their drinking water showed a correlation between chloroform concentration and rectal and bladder cancer. In fact, an international health agency classifies chloroform as a carcinogen for humans.
Other studies, especially from Europe, document the effect of trichloronitrate on swimmers. They conclude that this DBP is related to reactive airway disease or asthma in people who swim frequently. Another study shows that DBP’s are associated with changes in DNA in urinary bladder cells that correlate with an increased risk of cancer.
To summarize, DBP’s not only smell bad, they irritate your skin, eyes and lungs; cause central nervous system changes such as dizziness and headaches; cause fatigue; and with prolonged exposure are potential carcinogens.
How do DBP’s affect swimming performance?
Any athletic performance is determined by muscle contraction. Muscle contraction is an energy consuming activity that is related to oxygenation of the blood and blood flow to and from the contracting muscle. Oxygen is used along with blood delivered nutrients to produce energy so the muscle cells can contract and propel the swimmer through the water. Oxygen is delivered to the blood through the lungs as we breathe. Oxygen is then carried by our red blood cells to all tissues in our body including muscles, by blood flow. Blood flow depends on our heart to pump the blood and arteries to carry that blood to our exercising muscles.
At rest, our muscles require very little blood flow and oxygen. As we start to exercise and use our muscles to propel us through the water, they consume all the oxygen and nutrients in the area, then tell their arteries to dilate and send more blood. That causes our hearts to beat faster to supply more blood for the dilated arteries and that eventually causes us to breathe faster to deliver more oxygen to our lungs. A big part of athletic training, is to maximize this energy transport system from air to muscles. The more we exercise, the better the system works. The better the system works, the more we can exercise.
DBP’s affect performance in a number of ways. First, the air just above the water is what a swimmer inhales during swimming. That air has the highest concentration of DBP’s. The amount of oxygen in air follows the rules of physics. The higher the concentration of DBP’s, the fewer oxygen atoms in the same amount of air. So the swimmer in a pool with high DBP’s needs to move more air in and out of their lungs to remove the same amount of oxygen as a swimmer in a pool with lower DBP’s.
DBP’s like trichloronitrate cause lung irritation and narrowing of the tubes that bring air into our lungs. Because of the narrowing, less oxygen gets to the microscopic areas of our lungs where the delivery of oxygen to the blood occurs. Therefore, we need to move more air to extract enough oxygen for our exercising muscles. One result of this lung irritation is the use of drugs, called bronchodilators, that open up the airways and others, that control the inflammation caused by the irritating DBP’s. This asthma is a significant problem in many competitive swimmers.
Like most diseases, some people are more sensitive to DBP’s than others.
Those swimmers who are sensitive to DBP’s have to work harder to provide adequate energy for their contracting muscles than those who are less sensitive to DBP’s irritation.
Performance and conditioning is all about maximizing oxygen extraction from the air, blood flow to the muscles, and removal of waste products from the exercising muscle. DBP’s play a significant role in oxygen concentration in the air; delivery of air to the blood, and pumping of blood to the muscles. Along with the other health effects of chronic exposure to DBP’s and the uncomfortable irritation they cause, swimmers should do everything possible to minimize the concentration of DBP’s in their pools.
What can swimmers do?
Since urea is one source of nitrogen containing bio-molecules that form DBP’s, swimmers can reduce their formation by not urinating in the pool. Sweat is another source of urea that cannot be easily controlled since training causes increased sweating. I’ve talked to many competitive swimmers who tell me they don’t want to stop their training to go to the bathroom to urinate or that their coaches won’t let them take a break. Changing this would help create a more healthful environment for every swimmer, coach, lifeguard, and spectator.
What can facilities can do?
To understand the role of ventilation in this problem, we need to remember that DBP’s are at their highest concentration on the surface of the water. This is the boundary layer where there is little air movement. Traditional ventilation brings outside air inside, warms it up or cools it off depending on the temperature, and then moves it through the building, eventually pushing the air back outside. This is a very expensive process. Moving more air from the outside and through the entire space of the natatorium doesn’t address the area of the pool where DBP’s are in their highest concentration. Increasing the air movement at the surface of the pool does result in a decrease in the concentration of DBP’s. Paddock Evacuator Company’s Chloramine Evacuation System achieves this by a system that moves the air across the boundary layer and moves it outside.
Water disinfection and formation of DBP’s is a classic “rock and a hard place” situation. Chlorine and bromine are very effective and efficient killers of swimming (planktonic) bacteria and algae. They accomplish this through their chemistry. They are very reactive with other atoms and molecules. This reactivity oxidizes proteins and sugars in the cell wall of bacteria and algae, but also reacts with carbon and nitrogen containing compounds to form DBP’s in the water and air. It is the main way we control bacterial growth in most water systems. Even treatment systems, such as salt pools, control bacterial growth with chlorine. You don’t have to add the chemical, a reactor in the pool creates bio-reactive chlorine from the chloride ion in common salt.
When we started treating commercial pool water with PoolNaturally® Plus we found that the air quality in the pool area improved in a couple of days and the air in the entire facility was significantly improved after a week of treatment. Over time our customers starting saying that the only way you know there is a pool in the building is to see the water. Swimmers, coaches, lifeguards, and pool patrons all reported less eye, skin, hair, and lung irritation. After a swim meet in one of our pools, many swimming teams demanded that their facility add PoolNaturally® Plus.
To measure the effect of PoolNaturally® Plus on DBP concentration, we did a study with a fitness club to measure the THM in the air above the pool surface and the water in their two indoor pools (75,000 and 86,000 gallons). We measured levels weekly, for two weeks before PoolNaturally® Plus was introduced and then about every other week for 33 weeks. They have a high bather load and use chlorine for disinfection. We measured a steep decline of THM in the water resulting in 75% reduction in 33 weeks. In the air above the pool the chloroform concentration was decreased by 55%. The air quality improved just like in our other indoor facilities.
How does PoolNaturally® Plus affect DBP production?
The quick answer is we don’t know. We do have a hypothesis. PoolNaturally® Plus is made from Sphagnum moss leaves. In our laboratory, over the past 8 years, we have shown that PoolNaturally® Plus inhibits biofilm formation. Biofilm is a slime like substance that protects bacteria that adhere to the pool or filter surface. In fact, most bacteria prefer to adhere to a surface and cover themselves in biofilm, than to swim unprotected in the water where chlorine can kill them. We think the unique environment inside the biofilm helps convert urea and other organic compounds into DBP’s. We postulate that inhibiting biofilm reduces the production of DBP. The product could also have a direct effect on the DBP produced in the pool. We know the concentration is significantly decreased. We don’t quite yet know how.
PoolNaturally® Plus and swimming performance
We know competitive swimmers like training in water conditioned with PoolNaturally® Plus. We know that swimmers with asthma report that they don’t use their inhalers when they swim in outdoor or indoor pools where water is treated with PoolNaturally® Plus. We also know that lifeguards and aquatic professionals report fewer respiratory problems working around pools with PoolNaturally® Plus. We don’t know if their training and eventual performance is improved, and it will take time and study to know if the reactive airway disease, DNA changes and other health effects of DBP’s are improved.
- Use of chlorine and bromine as disinfectants in pools produces disinfection byproducts that have significant health and performance effects.
- DBP’s, such as chloroform, other THMs and trihalonitrates irritate people’s eyes, skin, lungs, and central nervous system.
- Pool water conditioned with PoolNaturally® Plus reduces the “chlorine smell” in treated pools and resulted in a 75% decrease in THM in commercial pool water and 55% reduction in natatorium air.
- Patrons of pools treated with PoolNaturally® Plus report significantly less eye, skin and lung irritation.
Articles about asthma and chlorine:
Chloroform and effects on humans:
THMs and bladder and colorectal cancer:
More about Paddock Evacuator Company’s Chloramine Evacuation System:
More about Creative Water Solutions’ PoolNaturally® Plus system:
Anyone who owns, cares for, or cares about pools, spas or any kind of recreational water, knows that water filtration is an integral part of every water system. Using sand for filtration is commonly used on recreational and residential pools and large spas. Here are some of my observations, thoughts and concerns about sand filtration.
Sand is cheap, plentiful, and when it is a particle, it works well as a filter medium.
Sand filters are usually filled, sealed and the sand is forgotten. The commonly held belief is that back washing the sand periodically, “fluffs it up” and returns the sand to a particle state where it can again work its magic as a particulate filter. Some sand filters have never been opened for 5-10 years to inspect the sand.
Back-washing the sand filter is costly. Water lost during back washing needs to be replaced, heated and treated. Ideally, the pool operators backwash often enough to keep the sand working as a filter, but do not needlessly back wash so water, heat, chemicals and time aren’t wasted.
Inspecting and analyzing the sand from pool sand filters in both residential and commercial pools has been enlightening, to say the least. At the bottom and sides of many filters we found sandstone. Actual sand in the process of forming sandstone. It wasn’t the gravel that is often put down underneath the sand, but sandstone. The sand in those filters was anywhere from 2-10 years old. The sand that wasn’t rock was sticky and foul. When we tested it in our laboratory, we found that it was full of biofilm.
We know that in an aqueous environment that contains bacteria, biofilm forms on every surface. To be effective, filters have enormous surface area whether they are made from sand, charcoal, paper, glass or diatomaceous earth. The particles become covered with biofilm over time. Biofilm is very sticky so the particles stick together. As time and pressure continue to pack the biofilm-coated particles together they eventually become rock. So what happens during backwashing? The water will take the path of least resistance. We observed in these filters that there were channels in the sand. We think that the water follows channels through the sand that have become established over time.
We know that backwashing will not remove biofilm. In fact there are very few things that will remove biofilm. Strong acid or base solutions work but they destroy the filter, pumps, valves etc. We have demonstrated that a flush used in spas removes 90% of laboratory created biofilm in one hour, and that many other solutions that claim to remove biofilm don’t.
Getting Better Results
We also have observed that sand in filters where the water is treated with PoolNaturally® Plus (the commercial version of the residential product PoolNaturally®) appears to remain as particles. We think this is why we needed to backwash filters with PoolNaturally Plus much less often than those with conventional water treatment.
By understanding the relationship between biofilm, filters and water we are aiming to create biofilm free aquatic systems that require less chemicals, maintenance, and unwanted side effects.
In my continuing travels to dealers, shows and meetings I am frequently asked, “Does the moss work in a salt water pool? “ Or “why do I need moss since my pool doesn’t need chlorine since it is a salt pool?” So this blog is about the science and chemistry of salt-water pools.
First, definitions: I’m going to talk about pools where the sanitizer is made from salt by a generator – not about the very few pools that actually have salt water similar to that in the ocean. Second, when I talk about green pool products I’m using the word to describe a product that is sustainable, with no artificially made chemicals, that doesn’t introduce toxic chemicals to the air, water or ground.
How does a salt water pool work?
Salt is usually sodium chloride or potassium chloride. When these chemicals are in water they become positively charged sodium or potassium and negatively charged chloride ions. In a salt pool, solid or crystalline salt (like table salt) is passed through a generator that produces hypochlorous acid and delivers it to your pool.
This is the exact same chemical that results when you place chlorine in your pool. Salt generated chlorine doesn’t add cyanuric acid in addition to the chlorine, which is added when “stabilized chlorine” such as dichlor or trichlor are used.
So a salt pool is simply a different way of delivering chlorine to your pool to make hypochlorous acid. It is no greener or different than using liquid or solid chlorine. Again, the end product that works to kill bacteria in water is hypochlorous acid and whether you produce this from salt, or deliver it to the water as chlorine, it is all the same thing.
Is a salt pool greener?
The short answer is no. People who sell salt generators want customers to think it is green since it uses salt that doesn’t have a bad name vs. chlorine that had a bad reputation. The end result of each method is the same production of hypochlorous acid that causes the exact same problems with pool water regardless of how the chlorine is delivered to the water. Salt-water generation of chlorine is no greener than adding bleach or granular chlorine to the water.
Does moss work in a salt-water pool?
The short answer is yes. It works the same way whether the sanitizer is added chlorine, bromine, cooper or silver salts, or ozone. It has the same positive effects with all types of sanitizers (except biguanides).
In our customer’s experience using moss with a salt generator, the amount of salt consumed by the generator decreases by 80-90% to keep the free chlorine in the pool between 1-2 ppm. This puts much less strain on the salt generator and results in less chlorine being added to the environment. The other effects of moss, such as pH stabilization and biofilm effects are the same.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the World Aquatic Conference in Atlanta that focused on health and safety issues in aquatic recreation. There were a few sessions on Cryptosporidium and pool contamination.
A long time ago I spend three months in rural Ivory Coast in Africa and saw the effects of parasites on health. There it is a daily, widespread and often fatal problem. Trying to eradicate the parasites is impossible, so most of the medical effort centered on treatment. Luckily, we have very few parasitic diseases so general knowledge about parasite patterns of transmission and growth are widely known.
Parasites in Pools and Lakes
Cryptosporidium, or Crypto for short, can be a serious health problem from pools and lakes. Giardia in lakes is a type of Crypto. Both parasites set up home in the intestines of mammals and cause diarrhea with the accompanying dehydration.
Contrary to most people’s belief, these parasites do not proliferate or “grow” in the water – only inside mammal’s intestines. They can live in the water for long periods of time waiting for an unsuspecting mammal, maybe you, to swallow the water. Then they set up shop and start to divide causing intestinal disease. Huge numbers of Cryptosporidium parasites can reside in every stool from an infected animal or human. As few a 10 ingested organisms can cause serious disease. Read the rest of this entry »
Now that you’ve flushed your spa once, twice or as many times as it takes to get it all out, how can you prevent biofilm from forming again?
Remember – biofilm forms when bacteria in solution adhere to a surface, divide and cover themselves with a protective layer of slime (mucopolysaccaride). Learn more at Montana State University’s CBE site.
You could try to completely sterilize your spa and the spa water and keep it sterile; drain the spa and use fresh water every week; use a flush to remove all biofilm once or twice a month and replace the water; OR you can prevent formation of biofilm while killing all swimming bacteria. Let’s look at each one.
The Hard Way:
Sterilize your spa and water
There is no easy way to sterilize every surface in your spa short of sending it to an industrial sterilization facility that uses high power x- rays. Even if that was done, the water placed into the spa would have to be sterilized, and you couldn’t use the spa because the second you stepped into the spa the bacteria on your skin would quickly repopulate the spa water and the spa surface. In my research laboratory, we conduct many experiments under sterile conditions and keep the systems sterile. The amount of work and equipment in addition to training required to accomplish that is enormous.
Drain the spa and use fresh water every week
This is essentially how commercial spa operators try to keep their spas within health department guidelines. They often use a measurement called “total dissolved solids” to determine when to dump the water and start fresh. Depending on the bather load, this could be done twice a week or weekly. The water is then treated with a sanitizer like chlorine to keep the bacteria count in the water within safe limits. This approach uses a lot of water, takes a lot of time, and does nothing to address the formation of biofilm in the spa. With the biofilm present in the spa, any excess bacterial challenge or change in bather load will “tip the balance” of the water and require more frequent water changes.
Use a flush to remove all biofilm once or twice a month and replace the water
As we discussed in my last blog (September 23, 2009), we now have an effective flush system that efficiently remove biofilm from surfaces and keeps it in solution. When the spa is drained, the biofilm goes out with the water. With fresh water and sanitizer in the spa, new biofilm will form over time requiring reflushing and fresh water. Theoretically, the water should last longer between changes than the previous scenario, but with frequent spa use, flushing would have to be done once or twice a month. The same problems as above make this treatment plan a real problem.
The Easy Way:
Prevent the formation of biofilm and control the number of swimming bacteria
This solution is ideal. Up until the discovery that certain species of moss prevent the formation of biofilm, this was a just a theoretical possibility. We know that sanitizers like chlorine and bromine are very effective killers of bacteria that swim. We now know that these same sanitizers are absorbed by biofilm and fail to kill all the bacteria within the biofilm.
Here’s how we now think this works: Combining the moss with sanitizer solves the problem. The moss prevents biofilm from forming, allowing the sanitizers to efficiently do their work on planktonic (swimming) bacteria. The moss also inhibits bacteria from dividing, so there are fewer swimming bacteria to kill. Combined with the moss’s ability to remove heavy metals from water and stabilize pH, the spa water becomes stable, clean, clear and safe. See the video on our website for more information about biofilm and moss.
Great podcast from National Public Radio’s “Science Friday” about biofilm in another water environment in your home — your showerhead! Listen here. Originally aired September 18.
In my last blog we discussed biofilm and how it affects your pool, spa, home, really anywhere water, bacteria and a surface come in contact. It is an important new discovery that is helping us understand how to keep water clean, safe, crisp, clear and provide a pleasant experience. You can see a newly posted, short video about biofilm and sphagnum moss on our website.
How do I get my spa, or pool to be biofilm free and keep it that way?
So the question remains, how do I get my spa, or pool to be biofilm free and keep it that way? First, if you haven’t done anything to remove the biofilm or keep it from forming, then be assured you have biofilm on every surface. It is very difficult to remove biofilm once it has formed.
The best example of how difficult it is to remove biofilm is the tartar on you teeth. That is biofilm and all the brushing, flossing, and mouthwash use will not remove the tartar. Your dental hygenist has to scrape it off with sharp (an often painful) tools. It would take toxic acid to remove the biofilm. That would destroy your teeth and gums along with the biofilm. Scrubbing the surface of your pool or spa might remove some of the biofilm, but not all of it. If it isn’t totally removed, any remaining will re-infect all the surfaces and restore the biofilm in hours. All the interior surfaces of your spa or pool are impossible to clean.
I know of one chemical that is EPA certified to remove biofilm. We tested it. It did remove some of the biofilm, but it off gassed a chemical or chemicals that were very toxic to my lungs and all those in the same room. We found a spa flush that claims to have an effect on biofilm and it does break biofilm free from the spa and doesn’t cause any severe side effects. This is supplied in our SpaNaturally kit (Spa System Flush).
Soon we will be releasing a new solution that is even better at removing biofilm with no side effects. We test these products in our laboratory on biofilms grown in cultures and then also test them in the field.
The bad news for spa owners is that they need to flush the spa to remove biofilm whether it is new or old.
Here’s the problem: When spas are made at the factory they are tested for leaks by filling them with water from tanks in the factory. Biofilm grows in these tanks so the water transfers bacteria and biofilm to the new spa. It is impossible to remove all the water from the spa. It is then shrink wrapped and stored. Everywhere there is water there is biofilm that dries and hardens as the spa is stored.
When you refill your new spa the dried biofilm comes back to life and spreads throughout your spa water. Another fact is that the more jets in your spa, the more biofilm there is also. Each jet is fed by a tube made of plastic that comes from a manifold. The more jets, the more pipe, the more places where water collects and forms biofilm.
I proved this by using a long scope like those I used to use for colonoscopy. In a new spa, the tubes leading to the jets were clean until they curved. Along the bottom arc of the curve the biofilm started and continued until the tube curved back either up or down.
Another place where biofilm forms is in the housing of pumps. These are wet tested in the factory and have the same problem as the spa jets. In fact, I recently had to replace my circulation pump in my own spa that is biofilm free. Three days later the water became cloudy and started to foam. I flushed the spa and black biofilm came out with the flush. After flushing the spa returned to crystal clear water, with no foaming. I then checked other pumps and found black biofilm in the pump housings.
Heat also affects biofilm formation. Bacteria and biofilm are very temperature sensitive. The closer the temperature of the water gets to 100°F the higher the bacteria growth rate and therefore the more biofilm forms. Lower temperatures inhibit (but don’t stop) bacterial growth.
How much flushing is needed?
Depending on the amount of biofilm in the spa, more than one flush may be needed to completely remove all the dried biofilm. I needed to flush my new spa seven times (using our current flush) before it stayed clean and clear.
You are probably asking the same question I did while this problem was being understood and researched. Could the spa manufacturers make a biofilm free spa? I know they can. We have been working with spa manufacturers to flush their water tanks and treat the water with moss so they don’t transfer biofilm to the spa when it is wet tested. So far, the results are very encouraging. When we flush the new spas, very little biofilm is removed even after months of storage.
In review. Biofilm coats all spa and pool surfaces in contact with water. It is very difficult to remove. Using the right chemicals and system can remove biofilm. All spas, new and old must be flushed. On the horizon, biofilm free new spas are possible.
Next, I’ll talk about pools and preventing biofilm from forming.
David Knighton, MD
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.
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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