Take simple precautions to stem bioslime growth

Posted April 17, 2009, at 7:35 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:28 a.m.

We live in interesting times.

Our homes are mostly far cleaner than any homes in history. We have antibacterial soap everywhere. We usually bathe daily and almost always smell fresh and clean. We have dredged ourselves into a very sanitary lifestyle that is the envy of the world in a relatively short period of time.

And all this clean living still leaves us with creepy crawlies in the most unlikely places.

The natural world is inescapable and we are not immune to it, even with all the cleansers and antibacterial soaps.

Now comes the part that you may want to stop at, if you are eating breakfast on this fine Saturday morning. It is about bioslime. If you look up bioslime, you can find a lot of links about a movie of the same name. I have never seen the movie, but I can imagine what it is about.

My bioslime is more benign, I think.

Over the past 30 years, we have used more and more plastic tubing for plumbing in our homes and buildings. Researchers have discovered a layer of microbial growth inside the tubing that they call bioslime. It is a thin layer of bacteria and-or mold and it is everywhere. If you have ever had the joy of cutting into a PVC drain-pipe, you will always see this up close and personal. It is pretty messy.

I expect to see bioslime in drain pipes, given what they carry out of our houses.

But no one was expecting to see it in the cold and hot water pipes, which are under pressure and bring our bathing and drinking water to the tap. It is in plastic water lines.

Copper water lines do not have this issue since copper is toxic to most bacteria.

Now, before you get too freaked out, bioslime seems to be pretty innocuous to us.

Just thought you’d like to know.

There is one area where bacteria hang around that can be dangerous — that is in your hot water heater. Tank water heaters can produce Legionella bacteria. This can cause Legionnaire’s disease. We had a case in Bangor about 15 years ago that was fatal. It can be acquired when aerosolized, such as when you take a shower.

Fortunately, it is pretty simple to kill Legionella bacteria by keeping the water heater above 140F. Most people do not or cannot operate their tank water heaters that hot.

And it is not imperative to run your water heater that hot. But if you leave your water heater off for a period of time, such as if you go away in the winter and the water remains in the tank cold, you are creating the proper conditions to breed Legionella. If this is done, you should flush the system thoroughly before using it.

The plumbing bacteria that bother me most are in the toilet tank. The water in the toilet tank can get some slimy, sometimes very colorful stuff growing around the water level.

This can affect the performance of the fill valve and create chaos at the most inopportune time. This has a simple fix: An occasional treatment with bleach will help knock down any nasty stuff in the tank.

These critters are all around us. We will not suppress the natural world and should not want to. We do need to know how to deal with these issues when they can possibly hurt us.

Hope breakfast was OK.

Questions for Tom Gocze may be mailed to The Home Page, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402-1329. A library of reference material and a home-project blog are at www.bangordailynews.com/thehomepage.html.

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