Emerging Health Concerns Related to Water Treatment

M. J. Plewa, E. D. Wagner

Research output: Book/Report/Conference proceedingTechnical report


Drinking water utilities provide an exceedingly important public health service through their generation of high quality, safe and palatable tap water. The disinfection of drinking water in public facilities primarily employs chemical disinfectants such as chlorine, chloramines, ozone and chlorine dioxide. These disinfectants are oxidants that convert naturally occurring and synthetic organic material, bromide, and iodide in the raw water into chemical disinfection byproducts (DBPs). DBPs are an unintended consequence and were first discovered over 30 years ago. Each disinfection method generates a different spectrum and distribution of DBPs; to date over 600 DBPs have been identified. While reducing the public health risk of acute infection by waterborne pathogens, the unintended generation of DBPs poses a chronic health risk. DBPs represent an important class of environmentally hazardous chemicals that are regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) and carry long-term human health implications. Epidemiological studies demonstrated that individuals who consume chlorinated drinking water have an elevated risk of cancer. DBPs have been linked to reproductive and developmental effects, including the induction of spontaneous abortions in humans. Although chlorine has been used for over 100 years in the United States as a water disinfectant, the majority of DBPs present in drinking water have yet to be chemically characterized. With only approximately 30 percent of the total organic halide identified to specific DBP chemical classes, and a small fraction of these evaluated for their biological and toxicological effects, it is clear that a great deal of work remains in the characterization of DBPs.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Place of PublicationUnited States
PublisherIllinois State Water Survey, Midwest Technology Assistance Center
StatePublished - 2008

Publication series

NameMTAC Publication TR08-05


  • ISWS


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