Disinfection by-products and extractable organic compounds in South African tap water

14 January 2011

An important step in urban purification of drinking water is disinfection by e.g. chlorination where potential pathogenic micro-organisms in the water supply are killed. The presence of organic material in natural water leads to the formation of organic byproducts during disinfection. Over 500 of these disinfection by-products (DBPs) have been identified and many more are estimated to form during the disinfection step. Several DBPs such as trihalomethanes (THMs), which is carcinogenic, poses serious health risks to the community. There is very few quantitative data available which realizes the actual levels of these compounds present in drinking water. The levels of four THMs present in drinking water were measured. It included chloroform, bromodichloromethane, chlorodibromomethane and bromoform. Although microbiological parameters are considered to get more attention than disinfection by-products, the measurement of the levels of these compounds in South-African drinking water is essential together with establishing minimum acceptable concentration levels. The target range for total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) established by the US EPA at the end of 2003 is 0-0.08ug/mL. The aim of this paper is to create an awareness of the problem as well as presenting preliminary results obtained with the method of analysis. Preliminary results indicate that urgent attention must be given to the regulation and monitoring of DBPs in South African drinking water.