Natural Organic Matter, Orthophosphate, pH, and Growth Phase Can Limit Copper Antimicrobial Efficacy for Legionella in Drinking Water
Copper (Cu) is a promising antimicrobial for premise plumbing, where ions can be dosed directly via copper silver ionization or released naturally via corrosion of Cu pipes, but Cu sometimes inhibits and other times stimulates Legionella growth. Our overarching hypothesis was that water chemistry and growth phase control the net effect of Cu on Legionella. The combined effects of pH, phosphate concentration, and natural organic matter (NOM) were comprehensively examined over a range of conditions relevant to drinking water in bench-scale pure culture experiments, illuminating the effects of Cu speciation and precipitation. It was found that cupric ions (Cu2+) were drastically reduced at pH > 7.0 or in the presence of ligand-forming phosphates or NOM. Further, exponential phase L. pneumophila were 2.5x more susceptible to Cu toxicity relative to early stationary phase cultures. While Cu2+ ion was the most effective biocidal form of Cu, other inorganic ligands also had some biocidal impacts. A comparison of 33 large drinking water utilities' field-data from 1990 and 2018 showed that Cu2+ levels likely decreased more dramatically (>10x) than did the total or soluble Cu (2x) over recent decades. The overall findings aid in improving the efficacy of Cu as an actively dosed or passively released antimicrobial against L. pneumophila.