Impact of changes in biofilm composition response following chlorine and chloramine disinfection on nitrogenous disinfection byproduct formation and toxicity risk in drinking water distribution systems

Water Res. 2024 Apr 1:253:121331. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2024.121331. Epub 2024 Feb 17.


In practical drinking water treatment, chlorine and chloramine disinfection exhibit different mechanisms that affect biofilm growth. This study focused on the influence of biofilm composition changes, especially extracellular polymeric substance (EPS) fractions, on the potential formation and toxicity of nitrogenous disinfection by-products (N-DBP). Significant differences in microbial diversity and community structure were observed between the chlorine and chloramine treatments. Notably, the biofilms from the chloramine-treated group had higher microbial dominance and greater accumulation of organic precursors, as evidenced by the semi-quantitative confocal laser-scanning microscopy assay of more concentrated microbial aggregates and polysaccharide proteins in the samples. Additionally, the chloramine-treated group compared with chlorine had a higher EPS matrix content, with a 13.5 % increase in protein. Furthermore, the protein distribution within the biofilm differed; in the chlorine group, proteins were concentrated in the central region, whereas in the chloramine group, proteins were primarily located at the water-biofilm interface. Notably, functional prediction analyses of protein fractions in biofilms revealed specific functional regulation patterns and increased metabolism-related abundance of proteins in the chlorine-treated group. This increase was particularly pronounced for proteins such as dehydrogenases, reductases, transcription factors, and acyl-CoA dehydrogenases. By combining the Fukui function and density functional calculations to further analyse the effect of biofilm component changes on N-DBP production under chlorine/chloramine and by assessing the toxicity risk potential of N-DBP, it was determined that chloramine disinfection is detrimental to biofilm control and the accumulation of protein precursors has a higher formation potential of N-DBPs and toxicity risk, increasing the health risk of drinking water.

Keywords: Biofilm; Extracellular polymers; Nitrogen-containing disinfection byproduct formation potential; Toxicity risk.

MeSH terms

  • Biofilms
  • Chloramines
  • Chlorine / chemistry
  • Disinfectants* / analysis
  • Disinfection
  • Drinking Water* / analysis
  • Extracellular Polymeric Substance Matrix / chemistry
  • Halogenation
  • Nitrogen / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical* / analysis
  • Water Purification*


  • chloramine
  • Chloramines
  • Chlorine
  • Drinking Water
  • Nitrogen
  • Disinfectants
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical