Potential carcinogenic hazards of non-regulated disinfection by-products: Haloquinones, halo-cyclopentene and cyclohexene derivatives, N-halamines, halonitriles, and heterocyclic amines

Richard Bull, David Reckhow, Xing-Fang Li, Andrew Humpage, Cynthia Joll, Steve Hrudey

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    177 Citations (Scopus)


    Drinking water disinfectants react with natural organic material (NOM) present in source waters used for drinking water to produce a wide variety of by-products. Several hundred disinfections by-products (DBPs) have been identified, but none have been identified with sufficient carcinogenic potency to account for the cancer risks projected from epidemiological studies. In a search for DBPs that might fill this risk gap, the present study projected reactions of chlorine and chloramine that could occur with substructures present in NOM to produce novel by-products. A review of toxicological data on related compounds, supplemented by use of a quantitative structure toxicity relationship (QSTR) program TOPKAT® identified chemicals with a high probability of being chronically toxic and/or carcinogenic among 489 established and novel DBPs. Classes of DBPs that were specifically examined were haloquinones (HQs), related halo-cyclopentene and cyclohexene (HCP&H) derivatives, halonitriles (HNs), organic N-chloramines (NCls), haloacetamides (HAMs), and nitrosamines (NAs). A review of toxicological data available for quinones suggested that HQs and HCP&H derivatives appeared likely to be of health concern and were predicted to have chronic lowest observed adverse effect levels (LOAELs) in the low μg/kgday range. Several HQs were predicted to be carcinogenic. Some have now been identified in drinking water. The broader class of HNs was explored by considering current toxicological data on haloacetonitriles and extending this to halopropionitriles. 2,2-dichloropropionitrile has been identified in drinking water at low concentrations, as well as the more widely recognized haloacetonitriles. The occurrence of HAMs has been previously documented. The very limited toxicological data on HAMs suggests that this class would have toxicological potencies similar to the dihaloacetic acids. Organic N-halamines are also known to be produced in drinking water treatment and have biological properties of concern, but no member has ever been characterized toxicologically beyond bacterial or in vitro studies of genotoxicity. The documented formation of several nitrosamines from secondary amines from both natural and industrial sources prompted exploration of the formation of additional nitrosamines. N-diphenylnitrosamine was identified in drinking waters. Of more interest, however, was the formation of phenazine (and subsequently N-chorophenazine) in a competing reaction. These are the first heterocyclic amines that have been identified as chlorination by-products. Consideration of the amounts detected of members of these by-product classes and their probable toxicological potency suggest a prioritization for obtaining more detailed toxicological data of HQs>HCP&H derivatives>NCls>HNs. Based upon a ubiquitous occurrence and virtual lack of in vivo toxicological data, NCls are the most difficult group to assign a priority as potential carcinogenic risks. This analysis indicates that research on the general problem of DBPs requires a more systematic approach than has been pursued in the past. Utilization of predictive chemical tools to guide further research can help bring resolution to the DBP issue by identifying likely DBPs with high toxicological potency.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-19
    Number of pages19
    Issue number1-3
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2011


    • Chlorination by-products
    • Halonitriles
    • Haloquinones
    • Heterocyclic amines
    • N-chloramines
    • Structure-toxicity relationships


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