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Convective Mixing in Distal Pipes Exacerbates Legionella pneumophila Growth in Hot Water Plumbing
Rhoads, William J.
Edwards, Marc A.
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Legionella pneumophila is known to proliferate in hot water plumbing systems, but little is known about the specific physicochemical factors that contribute to its regrowth. Here, L. pneumophila trends were examined in controlled, replicated pilot-scale hot water systems with continuous recirculation lines subject to two water heater settings (40 °C and 58 °C) and three distal tap water use frequencies (high, medium, and low) with two pipe configurations (oriented upward to promote convective mixing with the recirculating line and downward to prevent it). Water heater temperature setting determined where L. pneumophila regrowth occurred in each system, with an increase of up to 4.4 log gene copies/mL in the 40 °C system tank and recirculating line relative to influent water compared to only 2.5 log gene copies/mL regrowth in the 58 °C system. Distal pipes without convective mixing cooled to room temperature (23–24 °C) during periods of no water use, but pipes with convective mixing equilibrated to 30.5 °C in the 40 °C system and 38.8 °C in the 58 °C system. Corresponding with known temperature effects on L. pneumophila growth and enhanced delivery of nutrients, distal pipes with convective mixing had on average 0.2 log more gene copies/mL in the 40 °C system and 0.8 log more gene copies/mL in the 58 °C system. Importantly, this work demonstrated the potential for thermal control strategies to be undermined by distal taps in general, and convective mixing in particular.