This study experimentally assessed bacterial water-to-air partitioning coefficients resulting from showerhead aerosolization of water contaminated with Brevundimonas diminuta or Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and estimated human exposure through inhalation. Dechlorinated tap water was spiked with two cell densities (109 and 1010 CFU l-1) and cycled at three temperatures (10, 25, and 37 or 40ºC) through a full-scale shower system. For reproducibility, spiked water concentrations were intentionally higher than found in natural environments. Three types of samplers measured size distribution and viable concentrations throughout the system. Results indicate low levels of respirable bioaerosols were generated. The ratio of bacterial contaminant that was effectively aerosolized (bacterial water-to-air partitioning coefficient, PC bwa ) was low - averaging 1.13×10-5 L m-3 for B. diminuta and 8.31×10-6 L m-3 for P. aeruginosa. However, the respirable fraction of aerosolized organisms was high, averaging above 94% (in shower) and above 99% (downstream) for both organisms. This study found no significant difference in bioaerosol load for a forward facing versus reverse facing individual. Further, for the average hot shower (33-43°C) the total number of respirable bioaerosols is higher, but the observed culturability of those aerosolized cells is lower when compared to lower temperatures. Bacterial water to air partitioning coefficients were calculated to predict microbial air concentration and these empirical parameters may be used for assessing inhalation as a route of exposure to pathogens in contaminated waters.
Keywords: Bioaerosols; Exposure assessment; Partitioning coefficient; Pathogen; Water infrastructure.