Household exposures to drinking water disinfection by-products: whole blood trihalomethane levels

J Expo Anal Environ Epidemiol. 2000 Jul-Aug;10(4):321-6. doi: 10.1038/sj.jea.7500098.


Exposure to drinking water disinfection by-products (DBPs), such as trihalomethanes (THMs), has been associated with bladder and colorectal cancer in humans. Exposure to DBPs has typically been determined by examining historical water treatment records and reconstructing study participants' water consumption histories. However, other exposure routes, such as dermal absorption and inhalation, may be important components of an individual's total exposure to drinking water DBPs. In this study, we examined individuals' exposure to THMs through drinking, showering, or bathing in tap water. Thirty-one adult volunteers showered with tap water for 10 min (n = 11), bathed for 10 min in a bathtub filled with tap water (n = 10), or drank 1 l of tap water during a 10 min time period (n = 10). Participants provided three 10 ml blood samples: one sample immediately before the exposure; one sample 10 min after the exposure ended; and one sample 30 min (for shower and tub exposure) or 1 h ( for ingestion) after the exposure ended. A sample of the water (from the tap, from the bath, or from the shower) was collected for each participant. We analyzed water samples and whole blood for THMs (bromoform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, and chloroform) using a purge-and-trap/gas chromatography/mass spectrometry method with detection limits in the parts-per-quadrillion range. The highest levels of THMs were found in the blood samples from people who took 10 min showers, whereas the lowest levels were found in the blood samples from people who drank 1 l of water in 10 min. The results from this study indicate that household activities such as bathing and showering are important routes for human exposure to THMs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Disinfectants / adverse effects
  • Disinfectants / analysis*
  • Drinking Behavior
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hygiene
  • Male
  • Trihalomethanes / adverse effects
  • Trihalomethanes / analysis*
  • Water Supply*


  • Disinfectants
  • Trihalomethanes