Industry Update
Opinion Article28 April 2016

UV-C LED Systems: Answer To The Hospitality Industry’s Water Infection Problems

By Saketh Thanneeru, Applications Engineer at AquiSense Technologies

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Introduction
One of the big factors for success in any industry is customer care and satisfaction. In the hospitality industry it takes precedence over everything else. Customer experience in hospitality is what drives the popularity and hence, the revenue. So the more the customers are comfortable in the environment the better experience they will have. The biggest driver for their comfort is the feeling of being safe. However, recent incidents have marred the hospitality industry with health concerns over water safety. If the Global Risks 2015 report by Global Economic Forum is to be believed, the spread of infectious diseases is considered the second most impactful societal risk coming just behind water crisis. It is said that "Fear could ruin any experience" and the fear of water borne diseases is only growing. Possibly due to lack of knowledge, most hotel owners do not realize a central treatment unit is not enough to curb pathogens growing in the pipe and tank systems. The pipe and tank systems after the central filtration unit become breeding grounds for bacteria and viruses. There is also evidence of biofilm contamination in the central filtration units. In this age of heightened awareness and increased regulation, human health has never been more cared for or given attention like now. Couple these dynamics with improved diagnosis and the ease of documenting travel (e-tickets, e-mail), families and lawyers will have ample evidence to file wrongful death or negligence cases.

The Achilles heel

Water borne infections have always been the Achilles heel for the hospitality and leisure industry. Legionella is the most talked about pathogen and a growing headache for the hospitality industry. In fact, the Legionnaires' disease caused by the legionella virus was named after the first known outbreak at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1976, which occurred during a meeting of the American Legionnaires. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Legionella infections have a 5% to 15% mortality rate and are responsible for at least 8,000 to 18,000 U.S. hospitalizations each year. There are no vaccines that can prevent Legionellosis. The legionella bacterium can survive in a wide range of conditions, including temperatures between 32oF and 145oF. The ideal temperature is critical for proliferation and colonization of legionella, and it is most likely to occur in water temperatures between 102oF and 122oF. It is important to note that most hotel hot tub temperatures are between 102oF and 104oF, making hot tubs the perfect environment for the legionella bacteria to flourish, because of its temperature, low water levels and the ease in which the bacteria can be inhaled by bathers.

E. coli bacteria has been another pathogen that has been constantly causing problems for the hospitality industry. The E. coli outbreak incidents have been reported in many countries all throughout the world. E. coli is commonly found in natural water sources. The E. coli bacteria cause diseases by producing a substance called Shiga toxin. These bacteria generally are born and live in cattle and livestock intestine and enter the water ways via run off from grazing grounds. They do not need any special conditions to survive and can easily live in any of the operating temperatures of drinking water, swimming pools etc.

Biofilm contamination is another problem common in hospitality water systems. The main areas they grow are the central filtration unit filters or membranes. Biofilm is a collection of organic and inorganic, living and dead material collected on a surface. It may be a complete film or, more commonly in water systems, small patches on pipe surfaces. Biofilms in drinking water pipe networks can be responsible for a wide range of water quality and operational problems such as loss of distribution system disinfectant residuals, increased bacterial levels, reduction of dissolved oxygen, taste and odor changes, red or black water problems due to iron or sulfate-reducing bacteria, microbial-influenced corrosion, hydraulic roughness, and reduced materials life

Solution

The key to preventing any kind of water bio contamination is an effective disinfection system for the water systems in which pathogens grow, including drinking water systems, hot tubs, decorative fountains, and cooling towers (air-conditioning units for large buildings). Contrary to popular belief, chlorine does not kill all pathogens instantly. There are pathogens today that are very tolerant, or completely resistant, to chlorine and were not known to cause human disease until recently. Once these pathogens get in the water, it can take anywhere from hours to days for chlorine to kill them and sometimes, like in the case of Cryptosporidium, not at all. High water temperatures make it hard to maintain the disinfectant levels needed to kill pathogens like Legionella. A more effective and convenient way to employ disinfections in such conditions is UV technology at Point of Entry (POE) or Point of Use (POU) applications for each unit or room. Since a constant strong dose can be maintained by UV systems without any harmful by-products, even if there is an increase in the bacteria in the system POU UV systems (like a unit just before the faucet) will be effective at disinfecting water and decreasing points of failure (points of infection). Conventional UV mercury systems cannot be implemented in such systems because they are very complex to install and maintain, Operation wise conventional mercury systems also transfer a lot of heat to the water and hence changing the final output temp water to users. However, new UV-C LED technology system now available where no heat is transferred into the water and the unit itself has a very easy plug and play installation. Since this system can be turned on and off instantaneously, it makes an ideal POU system to switch on only when water is flowing. There is no warm up time hence there is no fear of untreated water passing through the system at start-up. Since the systems runs remotely and only comes on when the water is flowing, the lamp replacement period for a POU system is increased to 10 years compared to annual replacement of conventional mercury systems and there are no consumables involved except for the lamp itself. Hence the system does not need any maintenance on a regular basis which can turn out to be quite a hassle when you need the water to run 24 hours.

Conclusion

Safety of human health is the biggest factor in customer satisfaction. Despite the many efforts on behalf of the hospitality industry water borne bacterial infections are still a major health vulnerability, which has implications like closure, financial penalties and customer mistrust. With increasing incidents, hotels need to have a risk management plan in place. Inclusion of UV-C LED systems like the PearlAqua in such plans is only sensible, and can play role in ending a longstanding woe of the hospitality and leisure industry.

Saketh Thanneeru

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    Mitchel Hansen
    E-Marketing Specialist - AquiSense Technologies
    Phone: +1 859 869 4700​
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