Researchers provide steps for Flint residents to reduce bacteria in filtered water

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. - Researchers from Michigan universities and hospitals provided recommendations for Flint water customers to reduce bacteria in water and effectively use their tap water filters beyond manufacturers’ instructions.

All drinking water contains bacteria, the researchers said.

Previous studies have shown that the activated carbon block filters used in Flint can support bacteria growth. It’s still being investigated whether there are any harmful bacteria in the Flint-area filters.

Regardless, those who want to reduce bacteria in their water should follow these steps in the morning or after long periods of not using the water:

  • Turn the switch on the filter to the position that directs water away from the filter through the bypass and run the faucet until the water temperature cools. This bypass step avoids the use of water that has been sitting in the home's plumbing and typically contains very little chlorine. It sends the water with the highest bacterial counts down the drain rather than through the filter, where it could lead to more bacteria growth. This process could take several minutes.
  • Run filtered water for 15 seconds before collecting any to use. This is longer than the five seconds that most filter manufacturers recommend.

"Flushing as we recommend can reduce the bacteria levels in water by 10 or 100 times," said Nancy Love, University of Michigan professor of civil and environmental engineering who led the filter research.

While the process is a good precaution, it’s not recommended that those with weakened immune systems use water from the tap in Flint.

“For those at high risk of infection due to a weakened or immature immune system, we recommend that they use only bottled water that is purified by reverse osmosis for drinking, cooking and tooth-brushing,” said Peter Levine, executive director of the Genesee County Medical Society.

The researchers have not studied whole-house filters or shower filters, but they don’t recommend they be used.

"Some whole house filters can remove disinfectant residual in water that flows through household pipes, which can allow higher levels of bacteria to grow. Some shower filters can behave like kitchen faucet filters and support the growth of bacteria," said Shawn McElmurry, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Wayne State.

The research team is co-led by the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, and includes faculty members from Michigan State University, Kettering University and the Henry Ford Hospital System.

The research team is coordinating closely with the Genesee County Medical Society and the Flint Mayor's Office.

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