Aims: An evaluation was made of the prevalence of Legionella species in hot water distribution systems in the city of Bologna (Italy) and their possible association with bacterial contamination (total counts and Pseudomonadaceae) and the chemical characteristics of the water (pH, Ca, Mg, Fe, Mn, Cu, Zn and Total Organic Carbon, TOC).
Methods and results: A total of 137 hot water samples were analysed: 59 from the same number of private apartments, 46 from 11 hotels and 32 from five hospitals, all using the same water supply. Legionella species were detected in 40.0% of the distribution systems, L. pneumophila in 33.3%. The highest colonization was found in the hot water systems of hospitals (93.7% of samples positive for L. pneumophila, geometric mean: 2.4 x 10(3) CFU l(-1)), followed by the hotels (60.9%, geometric mean: 127.3 CFU l(-1)) and the apartments with centralized heating (41.9%, geometric mean: 30.5 CFU l(-1)). The apartments with independent heating systems showed a lower level of colonization (3.6% for Legionella species), with no evidence of L. pneumophila. Correlation analysis suggests that copper exerts an inhibiting action, while the TOC tends to favour the development of L. pneumophila. No statistically significant association was seen with Pseudomonadaceae, which were found at lower water temperatures than legionellae and in individual distribution points rather than in the whole network.
Conclusions: The water recirculation system used by centralized boilers enhances the spreading of legionellae throughout the whole network, both in terms of the number of colonized sites and in terms of CFU count.
Significance and impact of the study: Differences in Legionella colonization between types of buildings are not due to a variation in water supply but to other factors. Besides the importance of water recirculation, the study demonstrates the inhibiting action of copper and the favourable action of TOC on the development of L. pneumophila.