Weight of evidence for an association between adverse reproductive and developmental effects and exposure to disinfection by-products: a critical review

Regul Toxicol Pharmacol. 2001 Oct;34(2):103-24. doi: 10.1006/rtph.2001.1494.


Disinfection by-products (DBP) are a side effect of water chlorination. Some toxicological studies suggest an association between DBP exposure and adverse reproductive and developmental effects. This investigation considered all toxicological and epidemiological evidence for the various effects, outcome by outcome. The weight of evidence demonstrated that no association with DBP exposure exists for over a dozen outcomes including low and very low birth weight, preterm delivery, some specific congenital anomalies, and neonatal death. The analysis found inconsistent or very weak results for all congenital anomalies/birth defects, all central nervous system anomalies, neural tube defects, spontaneous abortion, and stillbirth. The weight of evidence suggested a positive association with DBP exposure for some measure of growth retardation (such as intrauterine growth retardation or small for gestational age) and for urinary tract anomalies. Having catalogued these effects, it should be noted that exposure assessment in the epidemiological studies published to date has been inadequate to definitively demonstrate an association of small magnitude. Exposure to DBP primarily has been based on routine (i.e., quarterly) monitoring of public water supplies for trihalomethanes (THM) matched to maternal residence. In order to determine whether an association exists between adverse reproductive and developmental effects and exposure to DBP, studies must consider the THM concentration and the quantity of the water actually consumed by pregnant women.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Drug-Induced / epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Birth Weight / drug effects
  • Chlorine / adverse effects*
  • Disinfectants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Growth / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Pregnancy
  • Reproduction / drug effects*
  • Water Supply / analysis*


  • Disinfectants
  • Chlorine