Courtesy Purdue University

Purdue University, with researchers from Michigan State University and San Jose State University, is using a $2 million grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to study the potential pathogen threats associated with “environmentally friendly” low flow water systems. Though conservation efforts have led to reduced flow rates—average systems are down to .5 gallons per minute from 4 gallons per minute in 1994—plumbing pipes remain the same diameter meaning water can become stagnant and age. The research team has reason to believe that this creates an optimal environment for disease-causing bacteria—such as brain-eating amoeba Naegleria fowleri or Legionella pneumophila which causes Legionnaires disease—to grow.

"The increasing occurrence of low flows in water distribution systems and building plumbing presents an emerging health concern. Opportunistic pathogens more easily multiply under low-flow conditions," said Andrew Whelton, an assistant professor in Environmental and Ecological Engineering and the Lyles School of Civil Engineering. "Building designers, managers, and health officials need better information and models to predict health risks in plumbing systems found in all sorts of buildings, from schools, to homes, to health-care facilities."

During this three-year project the team hopes to address the potential health hazards of the low-flow systems and make recommendations for improved design and engineering to reduce pathogen growth.

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