Sinks as a Reservoir for Bacteria

Title: Turning the water on in a sink can launch pipe-climbing superbugs

Source:  Ars Technica
More Information: Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2017. DOI: 10.1128/AEM.03327-16
Date:  3/2/2017, 3:10 PM
Photo:  Pseudomonas aeruginosa  taken from CDC website


Summary: Around 2004 and 2006 there were issues in a Canadian hospital when patients began to die from outbreaks of  Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Now, researchers  have described how this outbreak occurred. Bacteria can reside in the P-trap of sink piping and slowly climb up with the use of biofilms. When running water hits the bacteria it scatters on surfaces around the sink. This article also describes how researchers ran their experiments and articulates some of the findings.

Connections:  During the cell structure and function unit in class we discussed biofilms. This article describes an instance of when bacteria are using biofilms. Bacteria attach to the surface of pipes and then happily climb the pipes (at rate of 2.5 cm/day) while having nutrients poured down the sink to them.  More specifically, the lethal incident in the Canadian hospital was a result of a biofilm-forming bacteria we talked about in class-  (Pseudomonas aeruginosa) – which is involved with cystic fibrosis.

Critical analysis:  I had never considered that you could find bacteria thriving in sinks and piping underneath sinks . It makes sense though, especially when you consider that people don’t just wash water down sinks but also dump drinks and other fluids that may act as bacterial nutrients. Also, it was a  bit alarming that the study this article was based off of found that bacteria could splatter up to .75 meters away from the sink and onto touchable surfaces. (And that is in addition to the bacteria moving down the piping to head to other sinks if design allowed for it) I found it a bit ironic since the purpose behind P-traps are to trap debris and to prevent  water in the pipes from becoming gaseous and smelling badly. However, while solving those issues, P-traps have created a whole other problem.

I think the article was concise and easy to read for a public audience. The author of this article actually has a  Ph.D. in microbiology and so I trust her interpretation of the science. She also writes in a way that conveyed experimental methods and results easily and understandably. There was no jargon or any writing that would confuse the reader.


What could be done to prevent microbial growth in piping and from sinks becoming a public health issue?

1 Comment for “Sinks as a Reservoir for Bacteria”



I was also surprised by how far the bacteria could jump such a far distance. This issue was something that I was not aware of until reading through this article because I do not think about the water splashing when I use a sink and how that could facilitate bacterial transfer, as well as how disposing of items other than just clean water can encourage the growth and formation of a biofilm. The only idea that I can come up with to prevent microbial growth is to find a way to clean the P-trap, but other than that, I cannot think of anything to prevent microbial growth from becoming a public health issue. It is hard to completely sterilize sink piping and to make sure that it is 100% sterilized.