When exposed to oxidation, algae release dissolved organic matter with significant carbohydrate (52%) and biodegradable (55 to 74%) fractions. This study examined whether algal organic matter (AOM) added in drinking water can compromise water biological stability by supporting bacterial survival. Escherichia coli (1.3 × 105 cells ml−1) was inoculated in sterile dechlorinated tap water supplemented with various qualities of organic substrate, such as the organic matter coming from chlorinated algae, ozonated algae, and acetate (model molecule) to add 0.2 ± 0.1 mg of biodegradable dissolved organic carbon (BDOC) liter−1. Despite equivalent levels of BDOC, E. coli behavior depended on the source of the added organic matter. The addition of AOM from chlorinated algae led to an E. coli growth equivalent to that in nonsupplemented tap water; the addition of AOM from ozonated algae allowed a 4- to 12-fold increase in E. coli proliferation compared to nonsupplemented tap water. Under our experimental conditions, 0.1 mg of algal BDOC was sufficient to support E. coli growth, whereas the 0.7 mg of BDOC liter−1 initially present in drinking water and an additional 0.2 mg of BDOC acetate liter−1 were not sufficient. Better maintenance of E. coli cultivability was also observed when AOM was added; cultivability was even increased after addition of AOM from ozonated algae. AOM, likely to be present in treatment plants during algal blooms, and thus potentially in the treated water may compromise water biological stability.
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