Impact of Water Chemistry, Pipe Material and Stagnation on the Building Plumbing Microbiome

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A unique microbiome establishes in the portion of the potable water distribution system within homes and other buildings (i.e., building plumbing). To examine its composition and the factors that shape it, standardized cold water plumbing rigs were deployed at the treatment plant and in the distribution system of five water utilities across the U.S. Three pipe materials (copper with lead solder, CPVC with brass fittings or copper/lead combined pipe) were compared, with 8 hour flush cycles of 10 minutes to simulate typical daily use patterns. High throughput Illumina sequencing of 16S rRNA gene amplicons was employed to profile and compare the resident bulk water bacteria and archaea. The utility, location of the pipe rig, pipe material and stagnation all had a significant influence on the plumbing microbiome composition, but the utility source water and treatment practices were dominant factors. Examination of 21 water chemistry parameters suggested that the total chlorine concentration, pH, P, SO42- and Mg were associated with the most of the variation in bulk water microbiome composition. Disinfectant type exerted a notably low-magnitude impact on microbiome composition. At two utilities using the same source water, slight differences in treatment approaches were associated with differences in rare taxa in samples. For genera containing opportunistic pathogens, Utility C samples (highest pH of 9–10) had the highest frequency of detection for Legionella spp. and lowest relative abundance of Mycobacterium spp. Data were examined across utilities to identify a true universal core, special core, and peripheral organisms to deepen insight into the physical and chemical factors that shape the building plumbing microbiome.



bacterial community structure, unchlorinated drinking-water, ammonium-oxidizing bacteria, distribution-system, pseudomonas-aeruginosa, legionella-pneumophila, opportunistic pathogens, treatment-plant, potable water