Northern Utility Services

Health officials link brain-eating amoeba deaths to tap water… But Hold on, Don’t Panic!

Naegleria-fowleri Water Contaminant

Naegleria Fowleri, The microbe responsible for the deaths in the Fox News Article

A recent Fox News article links Amebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) to sinus irrigation with tap water.  Apparently, two recent deaths in Louisiana have been linked to the presence of Naegleria Fowleri (N. Fowleri) in the hot water plumbing systems of their homes. To say the least, this is a frightening headline, however, the article goes on to say that the CDC records only an average of 10 cases per year nation-wide,  and these two cases are the first ever cases linked to tap water. (usually a person is infected by swimming in warm lakes or rivers) Regardless, these cases highlight a frequently overlooked hazard found in home plumbing systems that we would like to bring to your attention.   

Don’t Contaminate Your Home’s Plumbing

Whether you receive your water service from a municipal or community system or even your own private well, your homes plumbing can be vulnerable to outside contamination if not properly constructed and maintained. It is well worth noting that the current deaths were not attributed to the municipal water supply, but to contaminants found in the victims home plumbing. The municipal source tested clean. To assist you in protecting your family and your home, we offer the following tips.

Tips to Protect Your Home

1. Install Vacuum Breaker Style Outside Faucets

Outside faucets pose a serious contamination hazard if not protected from back-flow or siphonage. For example, if water service to your home is disrupted while filling an outdoor pool, hot tub, or watering trough, contaminated water from the pool can be sucked back into your home’s plumbing.  Once contaminated, microbes can migrate to the hot water system where they can grow and multiply.  

Let Water Flow Only One Way

Make sure to only let water flow one way… Out!


2. Disinfect Water Filters

Ironically, water filters are one of  the most common sources of microbial growth in a home plumbing system.  If sterile methods are not used when replacing filter cartridges, microbes from hands and surrounding surfaces can contaminate the filter and then multiply. To minimize contamination potential, simply wear a clean pair of surgical gloves and dose the filter canister with a teaspoon of household chlorox before returning it to service.    

3. Bypass Any Unused Filter or Softener

Water softeners and filters are often installed and then neglected, and can be a serious source of household plumbing contamination. If you have a softener or filter that you no longer wish to use, either remove the device from the plumbing system or if possible, put the device into bypass position. Failure to do so can create an effective incubator for microbes that will eventually migrate to the rest of your plumbing


 4.  Disinfect Your Hot Water System

Of course, hot water from your hot water system should never be intentionally ingested due to the potential for microbial growth, but if you notice your hot water has an objectionable odor or taste, you may need to disinfect your hot water system. This procedure involves “shock chlorination” of the entire hot water system by introducing and holding a strong chlorine solution. This procedure can be complex, and is best done by a professional, but can have a dramatically positive effect on your plumbing system.  




5. Disinfect your Water Softener or Filter System

As previously mentioned, water softeners make a great incubator for microbial growth, and if left out of service and then returned to service, can be a frustrating and dangerous source of contamination. Often, homeowners will blame their municipal system for taste and odor issues that in fact are originating in a contaminated water softener or filter. If you suspect contamination, or wish to return a device to service after a period of disuse, it is wise to disinfect the device. As with hot water systems, this procedure is best handled by a professional.

6. Do Not Install Whole House Chlorine Removal Systems

Chlorine is added to drinking water systems to ensure that harmful microbial growths do not occur.  When an activated carbon filter is installed to treat your entire home’s plumbing, that chlorine protection is removed. If you find the taste and odor of chlorine objectionable, install a drinking water tap supplied by its own filter system. These systems are inexpensive, readily available at home improvement stores, and produce water equal or superior in quality and safety to that of bottled water suppliers at much less monetary and environmental cost.  

Clean Water

Keep your water clean and your home safe!

Although unlikely to eat your brain, microbes and other bacteria in your home plumbing can be a problem and should be taken care of.

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