Residual disinfectant effectively suppresses Legionella species in drinking water distribution systems supplied by surface water in Minnesota, USA

Taegyu Kim, Xiaotian Zhao, Raymond M. Hozalski, Timothy M. LaPara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Seven public water systems in Minnesota, USA were analyzed from one to five times over a two-year period to assess temporal changes in the concentrations of total bacteria, Legionella spp., and Legionella pneumophila from source (i.e., raw water) through the water treatment process to the end water user. Bacterial biomass was collected by filtering large volumes of raw water (12 to 425 L, median: 38 L) or finished and tap water (27 to 1205 L, median: 448 L) using ultrafiltration membrane modules. Quantitative PCR (qPCR) was then used to enumerate all bacteria (16S rRNA gene fragments), all Legionella spp. (ssrA), and Legionella pneumophila (mip). Total coliforms, Escherichia coli, and L. pneumophila also were quantified in the water samples via cultivation. Median concentrations of total bacteria and Legionella spp. (ssrA) in raw water (8.5 and 4.3 log copies/L, respectively) decreased by about 2 log units during water treatment. The concentration of Legionella spp. (ssrA) in water collected from distribution systems inversely correlated with the total chlorine concentration for chloraminated systems significantly (p = 0.03). Although only 8 samples were collected from drinking water distribution systems using free chlorine as a residual disinfectant, these samples had significantly lower concentrations of Legionella spp. (ssrA) than samples collected from the chloraminated systems (p = 5 × 10−4). There was considerable incongruity between the results obtained via cultivation-independent (qPCR) and cultivation-dependent assays. Numerous samples were positive for L. pneumophila via cultivation, none of which tested positive for L. pneumophilia (mip) via qPCR. Conversely, a single sample tested positive for L. pneumophilia (mip) via qPCR, but this sample tested negative for L. pneumophilia via cultivation. Overall, the results suggest that conventional treatment is effective at reducing, but not eliminating, Legionella spp. from surface water supplies and that residual disinfection is effective at suppressing these organisms within drinking water distribution systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number173317
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Aug 25 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 Elsevier B.V.


  • DNA sequencing
  • Drinking water
  • Legionella pneumophila
  • Legionnaires' disease
  • Quantitative PCR


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