Assessment of bismuth thiols and conventional disinfectants on drinking water biofilms

Francesc Codony, P. Domenico, J. Mas

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17 Citations (Scopus)


Aims: Biofilms in water distribution systems represent a far more signifcant reservoir of micro-organisms than the water phase. Biofilms are (i) resistant to disinfectants, (ii) nuclei for microbial regrowth, (iii) a refuge for pathogens, (iv) accompanied by taste and odour problems, and (v) corrode surfaces. The effects of the current strategies for disinfection of drinking water systems in large buildings (chlorination, copper and silver ionization, and hyper-heating) were compared with a new generation of bismuth thiol (BT) biocides. Methods and Results: Multispecies biofilms were treated with 0.8 mg l-1 of free chlorine, 400 and 40 μg l-1 of copper and silver ions, respectively, at 55 and 70°C, and bismuth-2,3-dimercaptopropanol (BisBAL). Furthermore, the effect of combined heat and BisBAL on planktonic cell viability was examined in monoculture using Escherichia coli suspensions. Inactivation rates for BisBAL were similar to copper-silver ions, where the effects were slower than for free chlorine or temperature. The BisBAL effect on E. coli monocultures was augmented greatly by increasing temperatures. Conclusions: Like copper-silver ions, BTs show more persistent residual effects than chlorine and hyper-heating in water systems. BT efficiency increased with temperature. Like copper-silver ions, BT action is relatively slow. Significance and Impact of the Study: BT presents a new approach to containing water biofilms. BT action is not as rapid, but is more thorough than chlorine, and less caustic. BTs may also be more efficacious in hot water systems. At sub-minimum inhibition concentration levels, BTs uniquely inhibit bacterial exopolysaccharide, thereby retarding biofilm formation. Thus, the combination of bactericidal and residual effects may prevent slime build-up in hot water systems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)288-293
JournalJournal of Applied Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2003


  • Biofilms
  • Bismuth thiols
  • Disinfection
  • Drinking water


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