This study assessed the characteristics of and changes in the suspended particles and the associated bacteria in an unchlorinated drinking water distribution system and its reservoirs with different water sources. The results show that particle-associated bacteria (PAB) were present at a level of 0.8-4.5 × 103 cells ml-1 with a biological activity of 0.01-0.04 ng l-1 ATP. Different PAB communities in the waters produced from different sources were revealed by a 16S rRNA-based pyrosequencing analysis. The quantified biomass underestimation due to the multiple cells attached per particle was ≥ 85%. The distribution of the biologically stable water increased the number of cells per particle (from 48 to 90) but had minor effects on the PAB community. Significant changes were observed at the mixing reservoir. Our results show the characteristics of and changes in suspended PAB during distribution, and highlight the significance of suspended PAB in the distribution system, because suspended PAB can lead to a considerable underestimation of biomass, and because they exist as biofilm, which has a greater mobility than pipe-wall biofilm and therefore presents a greater risk, given the higher probability that it will reach the customer' taps and be ingested.
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