Toxicological aspects of trihalomethanes: a systematic review

  • Luciana de Castro Medeiros
  • Feliphe Lacerda Souza de Alencar
  • Julio Alejandro Navoni
  • André Luis Calado de Araujo
  • Viviane Souza do AmaralEmail author
Review Article


Chlorine is considered the most used chemical agent for water disinfection worldwide. However, water chlorination can lead to by-product generation which can be toxic to humans. The present study aimed to perform a systematic review on the toxicity of trihalomethanes (THMs) through bioindicators of cytotoxicity, genotoxicity, and mutagenicity. The results showed that studies on the effects of THMs on DNA are a current research concern for evaluating the toxicity of the pure compounds and real samples involving several types including water for recreational use, reused water, and drinking water. THMs deleterious effects have been assessed using several biosystems, where the Ames test along with experimental animal models were the most cited. A wide range of THM concentrations have been tested. Nevertheless, DNA damage was demonstrated, highlighting the potential human health risk. Among the studied THMs, chloroform presented a different action mechanism when compared with brominated THMs, with the former being cytotoxic while brominated THMs (bromodichloromethane, bromoform, and dibromochloromethane) were cytotoxic, genotoxic, and mutagenic. The described evidence in this research highlights the relevance of this topic as a human health issue. Nevertheless, research aimed to represent THMs current exposure conditions in a more accurate way would be needed to understand the real impact on human health.


Chlorination by-products Trihalomethane Water disinfection DNA damage 


Funding information

This study was supported by Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq) and Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11356_2018_3949_MOESM1_ESM.docx (69 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 69 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Luciana de Castro Medeiros
    • 1
  • Feliphe Lacerda Souza de Alencar
    • 1
  • Julio Alejandro Navoni
    • 1
    • 2
  • André Luis Calado de Araujo
    • 2
  • Viviane Souza do Amaral
    • 1
    • 3
    Email author
  1. 1.Development and Environment, Bioscience CenterFederal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), University CampusNatalBrazil
  2. 2.Department of Natural ResourcesFederal Institute of Education, Science and Technology of Rio Grande do NorteNatalBrazil
  3. 3.Department of Cell Biology and Genetics, Center of BiosciencesFederal University of Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), University CampusNatalBrazil

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