Exposure estimates to disinfection by-products of chlorinated drinking water

Environ Health Perspect. 1999 Feb;107(2):103-10. doi: 10.1289/ehp.99107103.


Exposure to disinfection by-products (DBPs) of drinking water is multiroute and occurs in households serviced by municipal water treatment facilities that disinfect the water as a necessary step to halt the spread of waterborne infectious diseases. Biomarkers of the two most abundant groups of DBPs of chlorination, exhaled breath levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) and urinary levels of two haloacetic acids, were compared to exposure estimates calculated from in-home tap water concentrations and responses to a questionnaire related to water usage. Background THM breath concentrations were uniformly low. Strong relationships were identified between the THM breath concentrations collected after a shower and both the THM water concentration and the THM exposure from a shower, after adjusting for the postshower delay time in collecting the breath sample. Urinary haloacetic acid excretion rates were not correlated to water concentrations. Urinary trichloroacetic acid excretion rates were correlated with ingestion exposure, and that correlation was stronger in a subset of individuals who consumed beverages primarily within their home where the concentration measurements were made. No correlation was observed between an average 48-hr exposure estimate and the urinary dichloroacetic acid excretion rate, presumably because of its short biological half-life. Valid biomarkers were identified for DBP exposures, but the time between the exposure and sample collection should be considered to account for different metabolic rates among the DBPs. Further, using water concentration as an exposure estimate can introduce misclassification of exposure for DBPs whose primary route is ingestion due to the great variability in the amount of water ingested across a population.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers
  • Breath Tests
  • Chlorine / chemistry*
  • Disinfection*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Halogenated / analysis*
  • Hydrocarbons, Halogenated / pharmacokinetics
  • Hydrocarbons, Halogenated / urine
  • Quality Control
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / pharmacokinetics
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / urine
  • Water Supply / analysis*


  • Biomarkers
  • Hydrocarbons, Halogenated
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Chlorine