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Byproduct of water-disinfection process found to be highly toxic

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A recently discovered disinfection byproduct (DBP) found in U.S. drinking water treated with chloramines is the most toxic ever found, says a scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who tested samples on mammalian cells.

The discovery raises health-related questions regarding an Environmental Protection Agency plan to encourage all U.S. water-treatment facilities to adopt chlorine alternatives, said Michael J. Plewa [PLEV-uh], a genetic toxicologist in the department of crop sciences. "This research says that when you go to alternatives, you may be opening a Pandora's box of new DBPs, and these unregulated DBPs may be much more toxic, by orders of magnitude, than the regulated ones we are trying to avoid."

Plewa and colleagues, three of them with the EPA, report on the structure and toxicity of five iodoacids [EYE O-doe-acids] found in chloramines-treated water in Corpus Christi, Texas, in this month's issue of the journal Environmental Science & Technology. The findings, which appeared online in advance, already have prompted a call from the National Rural Water Association for a delay of EPA's Stage 2 rule aimed at reducing the amount of previously identified toxic DBPs occurring in chlorine-treated water.

"The iodoacids may be the most toxic family of DBPs to date," Plewa said in an interview. One of the five detailed in the study, iodoacetic acid, is the most toxic and DNA-damaging to mammalian cells in tests of known DBPs, he said.

"These iodoacetic acids raise new levels of concerns," he said. "Not only do they represent a potential danger because of all the water consumed on a daily basis, water is recycled back into the environment. What are the consequences? The goal of Stage 2 is to reduce DBPs, particularly the ones that fall under EPA regulations, and especially the ones that have been structurally identified and found to be toxic."

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Contact: Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor
jebarlow@uiuc.edu
217-333-5802
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
14-Sep-2004


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