Drivers of Disinfection Byproduct Cytotoxicity in U.S. Drinking Water: Should Other DBPs Be Considered for Regulation?

This study reveals key disinfection byproduct (DBP) toxicity drivers in drinking water across the United States. DBPs, which are ubiquitous in drinking water, form by the reaction of disinfectants, organic matter, bromide, and iodide and are generally present at 100–1000× higher concentrations than other contaminants. DBPs are linked to bladder cancer, miscarriage, and birth defects in human epidemiologic studies, but it is not known as to which DBPs are responsible. We report the most comprehensive investigation of drinking water toxicity to date, with measurements of extracted whole-water mammalian cell chronic cytotoxicity, over 70 regulated and priority unregulated DBPs, and total organic chlorine, bromine, and iodine, revealing a more complete picture of toxicity drivers. A variety of impacted waters were investigated, including those impacted by wastewater, agriculture, and seawater. The results revealed that unregulated haloacetonitriles, particularly dihaloacetonitriles, are important toxicity drivers. In seawater-impacted water treated with chloramine, toxicity was driven by iodinated DBPs, particularly iodoacetic acids. In chlorinated waters, the combined total organic chlorine and bromine was highly and significantly correlated with toxicity (r = 0.94, P < 0.01); in chloraminated waters, total organic iodine was highly and significantly correlated with toxicity (r = 0.80, P < 0.001). These results indicate that haloacetonitriles and iodoacetic acids should be prioritized in future research for potential regulation consideration.

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