Chlorination disinfection by-products and risk of congenital anomalies in England and Wales

Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Feb;116(2):216-22. doi: 10.1289/ehp.10636.


Background: Increased risk of various congenital anomalies has been reported to be associated with trihalomethane (THM) exposure in the water supply.

Objectives: We conducted a registry-based study to determine the relationship between THM concentrations and the risk of congenital anomalies in England and Wales.

Methods: We obtained congenital anomaly data from the National Congenital Anomalies System, regional registries, and the national terminations registry; THM data were obtained from water companies. Total THM (< 30, 30 to < 60, > or =60 microg/L), total brominated exposure (< 10, 10 to < 20, > or =20 microg/L), and bromoform exposure (< 2, 2 to < 4, > or =4 microg/L) were modeled at the place of residence for the first trimester of pregnancy. We included 2,605,226 live births, stillbirths, and terminations with 22,828 cases of congenital anomalies. Analyses using fixed- and random-effects models were performed for broadly defined groups of anomalies (cleft palate/lip, abdominal wall, major cardiac, neural tube, urinary and respiratory defects), a more restricted set of anomalies with better ascertainment, and for isolated and multiple anomalies. Data were adjusted for sex, maternal age, and socioeconomic status.

Results: We found no statistically significant trends across exposure categories for either the broadly defined or more restricted sets of anomalies. For the restricted set of anomalies with isolated defects, there were significant (p < 0.05) excess risks in the high-exposure categories of total THMs for ventricular septal defects [odds ratio (OR) = 1.43; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.00-2.04] and of bromoform for major cardiovascular defects and gastroschisis (OR = 1.18; 95% CI, 1.00-1.39; and OR = 1.38; 95% CI, 1.00-1.92, respectively).

Conclusion: In this large national study we found little evidence for a relationship between THM concentrations in drinking water and risk of congenital anomalies.

Keywords: chlorination; congenital anomalies; disinfection by-products; trihalomethanes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology
  • Congenital Abnormalities / etiology*
  • Disinfection*
  • England / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Risk Factors
  • Wales / epidemiology