Iodine is an effective, simple, and cost-efficient means of water disinfection for people who vacation, travel, or work in areas where municipal water treatment is not reliable. However, there is considerable controversy about the maximum safe iodine dose and duration of use when iodine is ingested in excess of the recommended daily dietary amount. The major health effect of concern with excess iodine ingestion is thyroid disorders, primarily hypothyroidism with or without iodine-induced goiter. A review of the human trials on the safety of iodine ingestion indicates that neither the maximum recommended dietary dose (2 mg/day) nor the maximum recommended duration of use (3 weeks) has a firm basis. Rather than a clear threshold response level or a linear and temporal dose-response relationship between iodine intake and thyroid function, there appears to be marked individual sensitivity, often resulting from unmasking of underlying thyroid disease. The use of iodine for water disinfection requires a risk-benefit decision based on iodine's benefit as a disinfectant and the changes it induces in thyroid physiology. By using appropriate disinfection techniques and monitoring thyroid function, most people can use iodine for water treatment over a prolonged period of time.