BHARDWAJ 2004 Chlorine Disinfection By-Products and Waterborne Disease

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BHARDWAJ 2004 Chlorine Disinfection By-Products and Waterborne Disease
By Vipin Bhardwaj • NESC Engineering Scientist
Using chlorine to disinfect drinking water
was the single, most important public health
practice in preventing waterborne diseases in
the 20th century. Disinfection has virtually
eradicated a number of waterborne diseases,
such as typhoid, cholera, and dysentery, and
has literally saved millions of lives. But all of
the news about chlorine isn’t good.
In 1974, J.J. Rook discovered that free chlorine reacts with organic matter and forms a
wide range of substances known as disinfection byproducts (DBPs). The reaction happens
when naturally occurring carbon compounds,
such as decayed vegetation, fish, or aquatic
organisms, disintegrate. Other chlorine-based
disinfectants, such as chloramines and chlorine
dioxide, also may form DBPs.
Some of these DBPs can cause cancer, as
shown in experiments on animals in laboratory
studies, and others can cause acute health
On Tap Fall 2004
problems, such as liver damage. The discovery of DBPs and their adverse health effects
highlights the necessity for better understanding the disinfection process. And, it also
means that researchers must strike a balance
between preventing waterborne disease and
the health effects that DBPs cause.
Types of Disinfection Byproducts
When chlorine reacts with organic matter,
hundreds of DBPs may form. Two major
classes make up the bulk: trihalomethanes
(THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAA).
THMs include chloroform, bromoform,
bromodichloromethane, and dibromochloromethane. HAAs are commonly
abbreviated as HAA5, and include
chloroacetic acid, dichloroacetic acid,
trichloroacetic acid, bromoacetic acid,
and dibromoacetic acid.
Although THMs and HAAs are the major DBPs,
there are a variety of other disinfection compounds,
such as haloacetonitriles, haloketones, haloaldehydes, chloropicrin, cyanogen chloride, and
Recently, alternative disinfectants, such as chloramines, chlorine dioxide, and ozone, also have been
found to react with organics and can form DBPs.
Chlorine is hard to beat when it comes to disinfecting. The operators
at Tygart Valley Water Plant take all of the necessary precautions
when dealing with their chlorine disinfection system.
Health Effects of Disinfection Byproducts
The four THMs are regulated together as total
trihalomethanes (TTHMs). The current maximum
contaminant level (MCL) for THMs is 0.080 milligrams per liter (mg/L). The sum of the concentrations of each compound cannot exceed 0.080 mg/L.
Samples are taken quarterly and the average of the
four samples must not exceed 0.080 mg/L.
Chloroform affects liver and kidney function in
humans in both acute and chronic exposures. In lab
studies on mice and rats, three THMs, bromoform,
bromodichloromethane, and dibromochloromethane
caused changes in kidney, liver, and serum enzyme
levels and decreased body weight.
Haloacetic Acids
Dichloroacetic acid (DCA) and trichloroacetic acid
(TCA) are found more often among the HAA5s. The
MCL for HAA5s as a whole group is 0.060 mg/L.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
has classified DCA as a human carcinogen. Human
exposure studies indicated that people exposed to
DCA for six to seven days at 43 to 57 mg/kg/day
showed mild sedation, reduced blood glucose,
reduced plasma lactate, reduced plasma cholesterol,
and reduced triglyceride levels. Studies in mice and
rats showed that it causes liver tumors.
Studies have shown that TCA can produce
developmental malformations in rats, particularly in
cardiovascular systems.
What do the regulations say?
The Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule took effect on January 1, 2004, and applies
to community water systems and non-transient noncommunity systems, including those serving fewer
than 10,000 people that add a disinfectant during
any part of the treatment process. In addition, a
Stage 2 DBPs Rule has been proposed to supplement the Stage1 DBP Rule. It will require systems
to comply with a DBP MCL at each location of the
monitoring site.
The Stage 1 DBP Rule applies to all systems that
add chlorine, chloramines, or chlorine dioxide as a
disinfectant. It requires new maximum residual disinfectant levels (MRDLs) for chlorine (4 mg/L), chloramines (4 mg/L), and chlorine dioxide (0.8 mg/L).
MRDLs are like MCLs that are applicable to disinfectants. The MRDLs keep disinfectant levels low enough
to minimize DBP formation and limit health effects.
The rule specifies MCLGs for four trihalomethanes:
• chloroform (zero),
• bromodichloromethane (zero),
• dibromochloromethane (0.060 mg/L),
• bromoform (zero).
Photo by Julie Black
Two groups of haloacetic acids:
• dichloroacetic acid (zero) and trichloroacetic
acid (0.3 mg/L),
• bromate (zero) and chlorite (0.8 mg/L).
The rule requires treatment techniques to remove
natural organic matter and specifies MCLs for:
• total trihalomethanes—the sum of the four listed above (0.080 mg/L),
• haloacetic acids (HAA5) (0.060 mg/L)—the sum
of the two listed above plus monochloroacetic
acid and mono- and dibromoacetic acids, and
• two inorganic disinfection byproducts (chlorite
(1.0 mg/L) and bromate (0.010 mg/L).
The Stage 1 Rule requires systems to develop a
monitoring plan that outlines schedules for collecting samples and their locations. The plan must
cover the entire distribution system. The number of
people that the system serves determines sampling
frequency. Table 1 gives the frequency of samples.
Compliance is based on the running annual average (RAA) of monthly averages of all compliance samples collected in the last 12 months. Compliance must
be calculated each quarter, using the results from the
previous 12 months. Any RAA of monthly averages
that exceeds the MRDL is a violation.
Photo by David B. Fankhauser, Ph.D., http://biology.clc.uc.edu/fankhauser/
Stage 2 Rule
The Stage 2 DBP Rule goes a step further.
It requires systems to evaluate themselves and
identify locations within their distribution systems
that have higher residence time or pockets of
water that stay in the distribution system longer.
Samples would have to be taken at these sites.
EPA calls this process initial distribution system
evaluation (IDSE). Under the Stage 2 DBP Rule,
MCLs for TTHMs and HAA5s will be calculated
at each monitoring site. This is known as a locational RAA, (i.e., running yearly averages of each
sample collected at the specified location).
The Stage 2 Rule is more difficult for systems
to comply with because DBP levels in some parts
of a distribution system can be higher than when
water is standing at one point. The Stage 2 Rule
is expected to take effect by 2005.
Alternative Disinfectants
Alternative disinfectants are ultraviolet light
(UV), potassium permanganate, ozone, or a combination of chlorine dioxide and chloramines.
Chlorine gas is inexpensive and effective. None
of the other disinfectants are as economical as chlorine. Ozone is a powerful disinfectant, which does
not produce chlorinated organics but does create
other byproducts. Additonally, ozone does not have
a residual so it is used along with chloramines that
Methods to Treat DBPs
There are four approaches to alleviate DBPS:
1. minimizing precursors,
2. reducing disinfectant doses,
3. removing DBPs after their formation, and
4. using alternative disinfectants.
Minimizing Precursors
One way to prevent DBPs is to prevent the
occurrence of natural organic matter in the source
water. System operators can:
• reduce the precursor content of raw water,
such as blending source waters,
• remove precursors in the plant,
• disinfect the water after all other treatment
has been completed, or
• a combination of the three.
Photos Source: Wilsonville, Oregon Water Treatment Plant
Wilsonville, Oregon, is a city of approximately 14,000
people. Their water treatment plant, located on the
Willamette River, has enhanced methods of water treatment incorporated into the design of their multi-barrier
system, which includes an ozonation disinfection process.
Adsorption with granular activated carbon
(GAC) and coagulation with alum and ferric
salts may reduce natural organic matter levels.
Reducing Disinfectant Dosages
Reducing the primary and secondary disinfection
dosages and introducing booster chlorination later
in the distribution system can reduce the overall
disinfectant dosage. Eliminating prechlorination
altogether also will prevent organic matter from
coming in contact with chlorine. Also, including
an anthracite layer in the filter or feeding activated
carbon before the filtration step will adsorb organic
matter before filtration. Chlorination can then be
performed later.
Removing Disinfection Byproducts
EPA identified enhanced coagulation,
enhanced softening, or granular activated carbon
as the best available technologies (BATs) for
removing THMs and HAAs. However, these methods are expensive and must be used only after
other methods have been tried. GAC adsorption
method requires long columns with substantial
carbon content.
On Tap Fall 2004
Photos Source: Wilsonville, Oregon Water Treatment Plant
Liquid oxygen is used to generate ozone for the treatment
process.The machine pictured above converts the oxygen
gas (O2) into ozone (O3). After the ozone is bubbled through
the water in the treatment process, the ozone is converted
back to oxygen gas and released to the atmosphere. For
more information visit their Web site at www.ci.
provide a residual. When UV disinfection is used,
it also has the same problem of no residual, and
chloramines or chlorine is used for the residual.
UV is not effective for turbid waters, and UV effectiveness decreases with increasing turbidity.
Some states do not recognize other disinfectants
and will not approve them unless they are used
along with chlorine or chloramines that provide a
residual. Systems need to check with their primacy
agencies before selecting alternative disinfectants.
Chlorine Is Hard to Replace
Chlorine is the traditional chemical disinfectant in drinking water, used since the early 20th
century to inactivate or chemically kill microorganisms in our drinking water. Chlorine has a
proven record of reliability in drinking water
safety, which is hard to replace.
With the new disinfection byproduct rules, utilities have to balance the benefits of safety of public
health through disinfection, on one hand, and the
risk of byproducts of disinfection, on the other.
Photos Source: Snodland Town, Kent, England Drinking Water Services
Snodland Town, Kent, England has a population of
approximately 9,000. The town installs a variety of
small water treatment systems to meet individual
needs. A wide range of disinfection options are offered
including small UV treatment units, filters, and monitors.
Photo by Julie Black
Many small drinking water plants in the U.S. use chlorine
disinfection because of its proven record.
Where Can I Find More Information?
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Ground Water and
Drinking Water. www.epa.gov/OGWDW/mdbp.html.
American Water Works Association. 1999. Water Quality and
Treatment, A Handbook of Community Water Supplies, Fifth Edition.
McGraw Hill.
American Water Works Association. 1993. Controlling Disinfection
Byproducts. AWWA: Denver, Colorado.
HDR Engineering, Inc., 1991. Handbook of Public Water Systems,
Second Edition, John Wiley and Sons:Omaha, NE.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Satellite Training, Stage 1
Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule. May 18, 2004.
Photos Source: Snodland Town, Kent, England Drinking Water Services
For more information visit their Web site at www.
NDWC Engineering Scientist Vipin
Bhardwaj has a bachelor’s degree
in chemical engineering and master’s degrees in environmental
engineering and agriculture from
West Virginia University.
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