It was a small study, but the results are concerning nonetheless. Recently a team of researchers from the EPA’s National Exposure Research Library in Cincinnati collected nearly 300 samples from 68 water taps throughout the United States—including household sinks, drinking fountains and even a refrigerator water dispenser—and found nearly half of them tested positive for traces of Legionella pneumophila.
L. pneumophila is a bacterium that causes a severe form of pneumonia called Legionnaires’ disease, which, though relatively rare, can be fatal in some cases. It was one of the first studies to look for the presence of the bacterium in water taps, and key findings were published in the February 2014 edition of the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Specifically:
- 32 taps contained traces of L. pneumophila in at least one sample
- 11 of those 32 taps contained the bacterium in multiple samples
Though additional research is planned to determine how the bacterium got there in the first place, it should be noted that the disease is mainly contracted by breathing in mist from bacteria-infected water. According to the Mayo Clinic website:
Most people become infected when they inhale microscopic water droplets containing legionella bacteria. This might be the spray from a shower, faucet or whirlpool, or water dispersed through the ventilation system in a large building.i
In some less common cases, the disease is contracted through aspiration (when contaminated water enters the lungs as the result of coughing or choking) or through contact with contaminated soil.