Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

What's in your water?: Disinfectants create toxic by-products

02.04.2009
Although perhaps the greatest public health achievement of the 20th century was the disinfection of water, a recent study now shows that the chemicals used to purify the water we drink and use in swimming pools react with organic material in the water yielding toxic consequences.

University of Illinois geneticist Michael Plewa said that disinfection by-products (DBPs) in water are the unintended consequence of water purification. "The reason that you and I can go to a drinking fountain and not be fearful of getting cholera is because we disinfect water in the United States," he said.

"But the process of disinfecting water with chlorine and chloramines and other types of disinfectants generates a class of compounds in the water that are called disinfection by-products. The disinfectant reacts with the organic material in the water and generates hundreds of different compounds. Some of these are toxic, some can cause birth defects, some are genotoxic, which damage DNA, and some we know are also carcinogenic."

The 10-year study began with an EPA grant to develop mammalian cell lines that would be used specifically to analyze the ability of these compounds to kill cells, or cytotoxicity, and the ability of these emerging disinfection by-products to cause genomic DNA damage.

"Our lab has assembled the largest toxicological data base on these emerging new DBPs. And from them we've made two fundamental discoveries that hopefully will aid the U.S. EPA in their regulatory decisions. The two discoveries are somewhat surprising," Plewa said.

The first discovery involves iodine-containing DBPs. "You get iodine primarily from sea water or underground aquifers that perhaps were associated with an ancient sea bed at one time. If there is high bromine and iodine in that water, when you disinfect these waters, you can generate the chemical conditions necessary to produce DBPs that have iodine atoms attached. And these are much more toxic and genotoxic than the regulated DBPs that currently EPA uses," he said.

Plewa said that the second discovery concerns nitrogen-containing DBPs. "Disinfectant by-products that have a nitrogen atom incorporated into the structure are far more toxic and genotoxic, and some even carcinogenic, than those DBPs that don't have nitrogen. And there are no nitrogen-containing DBPs that are currently regulated."

In addition to drinking water DBPs, Plewa said that swimming pools and hot tubs are DBP reactors. "You've got all of this organic material called 'people' -- and people sweat and use sunscreen and wear cosmetics that come off in the water. People may urinate in a public pool. Hair falls into the water and then this water is chlorinated. But the water is recycled again and again so the levels of DBPs can be ten-fold higher than what you have in drinking water."

Plewa said that studies were showing higher levels of bladder cancer and asthma in people who do a lot of swimming - professional swimmers as well as athletic swimmers. These individuals have greater and longer exposure to toxic chemicals which are absorbed through the skin and inhaled.

"The big concern that we have is babies in public pools because young children and especially babies are much more susceptible to DNA damage in agents because their bodies are growing and they're replicating DNA like crazy," he said.

Some public pools have been closed because they have high levels of bacteria. "Public pools keep a high level of chlorine in the water to keep bacteria and pathogens down but very little work research is conducted on evaluating levels of generated dangerous disinfection by-products.

"The idea is to keep the pools disinfected, keep them in compliance, just as with drinking water but then use engineering techniques that reduce the levels of these toxic by-products." Plewa described another project he is working on as a researcher with a National Science Foundation Center called WaterCAMPWS at the University of Illinois. "We're working with engineers and chemists to develop new technologies that will disinfect water, that will desalinate water, that will remove pharmaceuticals from water but in so doing, don't generate by-products that are even more toxic than the things you're trying to remove."

Ironically, the DBPs that are regulated by the EPA tend to be some of the least toxic DBPs in Plewa's study. "We've found that the emerging DBPs are much more genotoxic and much more cytotoxic. But I can't fault EPA because these data were not present at the time and in fact the development of the database of over 70 DBPs has been done in concert with our colleagues at the federal EPA."

Plewa said that until new technologies are engineered to safely disinfect the water in public pools, education is needed to encourage people to bathe or shower before entering a public pool. "It's the organic material that gets in the pool that is disinfected and then recirculated over and over again. That's why we call swimming pools disinfectant by-product reactors. But by public education, by personal behavior, there should be ways that we can reduce the levels of the dissolved organic material that should reduce the level of DBPs."

Plewa, along with a team of scientists received a United States Environmental Protection Agency Science and Technology award for their paper Occurrence, genotoxicity and carcinogenicity of regulated and emerging disinfection by-products in drinking water: A review and roadmap for research. It was published in the scientific journal Mutation Research.

Debra Levey Larson | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.illinois.edu

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Successful calculation of human and natural influence on cloud formation
04.11.2016 | Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main

nachricht Invasive Insects Cost the World Billions Per Year
04.10.2016 | University of Adelaide

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

Im Focus: Molecules change shape when wet

Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water

In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...

Im Focus: Fraunhofer ISE Develops Highly Compact, High Frequency DC/DC Converter for Aviation

The efficiency of power electronic systems is not solely dependent on electrical efficiency but also on weight, for example, in mobile systems. When the weight of relevant components and devices in airplanes, for instance, is reduced, fuel savings can be achieved and correspondingly greenhouse gas emissions decreased. New materials and components based on gallium nitride (GaN) can help to reduce weight and increase the efficiency. With these new materials, power electronic switches can be operated at higher switching frequency, resulting in higher power density and lower material costs.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE together with partners have investigated how these materials can be used to make power...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

UTSA study describes new minimally invasive device to treat cancer and other illnesses

02.12.2016 | Medical Engineering

Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product

02.12.2016 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

What do Netflix, Google and planetary systems have in common?

02.12.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>