Point-of-use (POU) filters certified to remove lead are often composed of activated carbon and have been shown to release high concentrations of bacteria, including opportunistic pathogens. In this study, we examine the impacts of the common corrosion inhibitor phosphate on biofilm characteristics and the relationship between biofilm structure and bacterial release from POU filters. This knowledge is essential for understanding how best to use the filters and where these filters fit in a system where other lead contamination prevention measures may be in place. We measured the bacterial release from activated carbon POU filters fed with groundwater - a common source of drinking water - with and without phosphate. We used optical coherence tomography (OCT) to quantitatively characterize biofilm growing on activated carbon filter material in which the biofilms were fed groundwater with and without phosphate. Phosphate filters released significantly less (57–87 %) bacteria than groundwater filters, and phosphate biofilms (median thickness: 82–331 μm) grew to be significantly thicker than groundwater biofilms (median thickness: 122–221 μm). The phosphate biofilm roughness ranged from 97 to 142 % of the groundwater biofilm roughness and was significantly greater in most weeks. Phosphate biofilms also had fewer pores per biofilm volume and shorter channels connecting those pores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number169932
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Mar 1 2024


  • Bacteria
  • Biofilm
  • Drinking water
  • Phosphate
  • Point-of-use filter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pollution
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry


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