Definition and principal sources

Disinfection Byproducts are formed when disinfectants used in water treatment plants react with bromide and/or natural organic matter (i.e., decaying vegetation) present in the source water.

Different disinfectants produce different types or amounts of disinfection byproducts.

Eradicating Byproducts

Chemical disinfection is considered the essential and most direct treatment to eradicate pathogenic and other microbes in drinking water. The abilities of chemical disinfectants to eradicate waterborne microbes and reduce waterborne infectious disease transmission have been well known since the germ theory was validated in the mid-19th century. However, it was not until the late 19th and early 20th centuries that chlorine became widely recognized as an effective, practical and affordable disinfectant of drinking water. Subsequently, ozone and chlorine dioxide were developed as drinking water disinfectants and their ability to eradicate waterborne pathogens was determined.

However, If you receive municipal water that is treated with chlorine or chloramines, toxic disinfection byproducts (DBPs) form when these disinfectants react with natural organic matter like decaying vegetation in the source water.

For further information of which disinfection byproducts are found in water please click here (US Environmental Protection Agency)

Health Effects

DBPs are over 1,000 times more toxic than chlorine, and out of all the other toxins and contaminants present in your water, such as fluoride and miscellaneous pharmaceutical drugs, DBPs are likely the absolute worst of the bunch.

Already, it’s known that trihalomethanes (THMs), one of the most common DBPs, are Cancer Group B carcinogens, meaning they’ve been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. They’ve also been linked to reproductive problems in both animals and humans, such as spontaneous abortion, stillbirths, and congenital malformations, even at lower levels.

These types of DBPs can also:

  • Weaken your immune system
  • Disrupt your central nervous system
  • Damage your cardiovascular system
  • Disrupt your renal system
  • Cause respiratory problems

One of the benefits often touted about chloramines is that they produce lower levels of regulated DBPs, such as THMs, compared to chlorine. They still produce them, just at lower levels.

In 1998, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published its Stage 1 Disinfection Byproducts Rule, which required water treatment systems to reduce the formation of DBPs. This has led to an increasing number of treatment plants switching from chlorine to chloramine

Many believe this makes chloramine the superior choice in terms of safety, but what is less publicized is that compared to chlorine, water treated with monochloramine (the most common form of chloramine used to disinfect drinking water) may contain higher concentrations of unregulated disinfection byproducts – the risks of which are unknown.

Considering that many water utilities treat their water with both chlorine and chloramine, you may be getting the most of both regulated and unregulated DBPs in your drinking water, shower and bath (the DBPs that enter your body through your skin during showering or bathing also go directly into your bloodstream). There are, in fact, as many as 600 different toxic DBPs that have been identified, and to which you may be exposed through treated water.

More information about DBPs – US EPA information about DBPs in drinking water

What’s in the Water

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