Background and aims: Epidemiological studies of disinfection by-products (DBPs) and reproductive outcomes have been hampered by misclassification of exposure. In most epidemiological studies conducted to date, all persons living within the boundaries of a water distribution system have been assigned a common exposure value based on facility-wide averages of trihalomethane (THM) concentrations. Since THMs do not develop uniformly throughout a distribution system, assignment of facility-wide averages may be inappropriate. One approach to mitigate this potential for misclassification is to select communities for epidemiological investigations that are served by distribution systems with consistently low spatial variability of THMs.
Methods and results: A feasibility study was conducted to develop methods for community selection using the Information Collection Rule (ICR) database, assembled by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The ICR database contains quarterly DBP concentrations collected between 1997 and 1998 from the distribution systems of 198 public water facilities with minimum service populations of 100,000 persons. Facilities with low spatial variation of THMs were identified using two methods; 33 facilities were found with low spatial variability based on one or both methods. Because brominated THMs may be important predictors of risk for adverse reproductive outcomes, sites were categorised into three exposure profiles according to proportion of brominated THM species and average TTHM concentration. The correlation between THMs and haloacetic acids (HAAs) in these facilities was evaluated to see whether selection by total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) corresponds to low spatial variability for HAAs. TTHMs were only moderately correlated with HAAs (r = 0.623).
Conclusions: Results provide a simple method for a priori selection of sites with low spatial variability from state or national public water facility datasets as a means to reduce exposure misclassification in epidemiological studies of DBPs.