A recent study by Prof. YU Wenzheng’s team highlighted the risk that high concentrations of disinfection byproducts in tap water can cause bladder cancer and proposed sustainable solutions such as ozone biofiltration and nanofiltration to increase the safety of drinking water. This research by researchers from the Research Center for Eco-Environmental Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has been published in Nature Sustainability.
The provision of safe and reliable drinking water is of fundamental importance. While disinfection is intended to make water safer to drink, by-products of chlorine-based disinfection are harmful substances that pose a long-term risk to public health. In this study, the researchers conducted a national assessment of tap water across China. They found notable geographic differences in the concentration of disinfection byproducts in tap water across China, with higher concentrations in the northeast and central Yangtze River.
Based on officially published disease data, the researchers then verified the spatial relationship between disinfection byproducts and bladder cancer. That is, regions with a high incidence of bladder cancer are characterized by significantly higher concentrations of disinfection byproducts than other regions. However, the toxicity of disinfection byproducts is not only determined by their concentration, but also by their composition. Brominated disinfection byproducts are more toxic than those containing chlorine. Coastal areas with seawater intrusion showed higher brominated disinfection byproducts and associated toxicity.
In addition, the concentration of brominated disinfection byproducts is strongly associated with GDP, pollutant discharges and other human factors. “Therefore, countries and regions experiencing rapid socio-economic development may face higher toxicity from disinfection byproducts, and should consider adopting solutions to address the potential health risk caused by poor drinking water,” said YU Wenzheng, corresponding author of the study. Advanced water treatment such as ozone biofiltration can effectively remove the precursors of disinfection by-products, according to the researchers. In Shanghai, more than 60 percent of the city’s aquatic plants use such biofiltration to improve their water treatment, resulting in much lower levels of disinfection byproducts than in China’s three other largest cities. Therefore, this approach can be used to reduce the risk of disinfection byproducts in economically developed areas.
According to the researchers, getting water from less polluted areas could also be a solution. For example, water supply to the Haihe River region through the South-North Water Diversion Project has not only alleviated water scarcity in the region, but also improved water quality in an area previously suffering from severe organic water pollution. In addition to suggesting changing water sources and improving water treatment processes, the researchers also showed that nanofiltration is an effective household treatment to improve water quality and reduce the health risk of disinfection byproducts.
“Nanofiltration is a promising point-of-use technology to ensure the safety of domestic drinking water. In addition to disinfection byproducts, other potential micro-pollutants in tap water can also be removed by nanofiltration,” said YU. Overall, rapid urbanization raises concerns about the impact of various pollutants on drinking water and health. “This is the first effort to evaluate the health risk of tap water,” said LIU Mengjie, lead author of the study. “We hope there will be more intensive and detailed research on disinfection byproducts and other contaminants at the national level.”
High-resolution spatial and temporal data will allow researchers to better reveal the relationship between tap water quality and human health, reducing tap water risks. (ANI)
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