The healthy men study: an evaluation of exposure to disinfection by-products in tap water and sperm quality

Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Aug;115(8):1169-76. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10120.


Background: Chlorination of drinking water generates disinfection by-products (DBPs), which have been shown to disrupt spermatogenesis in rodents at high doses, suggesting that DBPs could pose a reproductive risk to men. In this study we assessed DBP exposure and testicular toxicity, as evidenced by altered semen quality.

Methods: We conducted a cohort study to evaluate semen quality in men with well-characterized exposures to DBPs. Participants were 228 presumed fertile men with different DBP profiles. They completed a telephone interview about demographics, health history, water consumption, and other exposures and provided a semen sample. Semen outcomes included sperm concentration and morphology, as well as DNA integrity and chromatin maturity. Exposures to DBPs were evaluated by incorporating data on water consumption and bathing and showering with concentrations measured in tap water. We used multivariable linear regression to assess the relationship between exposure to DBPs and adverse sperm outcomes.

Results: The mean (median) sperm concentration and sperm count were 114.2 (90.5) million/mL and 362 (265) million, respectively. The mean (median) of the four trihalomethane species (THM4) exposure was 45.7 (65.3) microg/L, and the mean (median) of the nine haloacetic acid species (HAA9) exposure was 30.7 (44.2) microg/L. These sperm parameters were not associated with exposure to these classes of DBPs. For other sperm outcomes, we found no consistent pattern of increased abnormal semen quality with elevated exposure to trihalomethanes (THMs) or haloacetic acids (HAAs). The use of alternate methods for assessing exposure to DBPs and site-specific analyses did not change these results.

Conclusions: The results of this study do not support an association between exposure to levels of DBPs near or below regulatory limits and adverse sperm outcomes in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acetates / analysis
  • Acetates / toxicity
  • Adult
  • Chlorine / chemistry
  • Disinfectants / chemistry
  • Disinfection
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sperm Count
  • Spermatozoa / cytology
  • Spermatozoa / drug effects*
  • Trihalomethanes / analysis
  • Trihalomethanes / toxicity
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*
  • Water Purification
  • Water Supply / analysis*


  • Acetates
  • Disinfectants
  • Trihalomethanes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Chlorine