Relation between stillbirth and specific chlorination by-products in public water supplies

Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Sep;108(9):883-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.00108883.


During water treatment, chlorine reacts with naturally occurring organic matter in surface water to produce a number of by-products. Of the by-products formed, trihalomethanes (THMs) are among the highest in concentration. We conducted a retrospective cohort study to evaluate the relationship between the level of total THM and specific THMs in public water supplies and risk for stillbirth. The cohort was assembled from a population-based perinatal database in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia and consisted of almost 50,000 singleton deliveries between 1988 and 1995. Individual exposures were assigned by linking mother's residence at the time of delivery to the levels of specific THMs monitored in public water supplies. Analysis was conducted for all stillbirths and for cause-of-death categories based on the physiologic process responsible for the fetal death. Total THMs and the specific THMs were each associated with increased stillbirth risk. The strongest association was observed for bromodichloromethane exposure, where risk doubled for those exposed to a level of [greater and equal to] 20 microg/L compared to those exposed to a level < 5 microg/L (relative risk = 1. 98, 95% confidence interval, 1.23-3.49). Relative risk estimates associated with THM exposures were larger for asphyxia-related deaths than for unexplained deaths or for stillbirths overall. These findings suggest a need to consider specific chlorination by-products in relation to stillbirth risk, in particular bromodichloromethane and other by-product correlates. The finding of a stronger effect for asphyxia deaths requires confirmation and research into possible mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cause of Death
  • Chlorine Compounds
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disinfectants
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Fetal Death / chemically induced*
  • Fetal Death / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Pregnancy
  • Public Health
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Trihalomethanes / adverse effects*
  • Water Supply*


  • Chlorine Compounds
  • Disinfectants
  • Trihalomethanes