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Ships’ Ballast Water Treatment by Chlorination Can Generate Toxic Trihalomethanes


The International Maritime Organization (IMO) will enforce a new abundance-based performance standard for ballast water in September, 2017. Strong oxidants, like chlorine, have been proposed as a method for achieving this standard. However chlorine treatment of ballast water can produce hazardous trihalomethanes. We assessed maximum trihalomethane production from one chlorine dose for three types of ballast water (fresh, brackish and marine) and three levels of total organic carbon (TOC) concentration (natural, filtered, enhanced). While the current standard test considers a 5 day voyage, there is a high possibility of shorter trips and sudden change of plans that will release treated waters in the environment. Water source and TOC significantly affected trihalomethane production, with the highest amounts generated in brackish waters and enhanced TOC concentration. The concentration of brominated trihalomethanes increased from background levels and was highest in brackish water, followed by marine and fresh water.

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We thank the captain and crew of the Helen C vessel for allowing us to collect ballast samples during port operations, C. van Overdijik, B. Middleton, S. Collins and S. Jarison for valuable assistance. We also want to thank the editor, Dr. Erin Bennett, and two anonymous reviewers who provided valuable comments to improve this work. This study was funded by a CONACYT graduate scholarship to MRH and NSERC Discovery grant and Canada Research Chair to HJM.

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Correspondence to Marco R. Hernandez.

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Hernandez, M.R., Ismail, N., Drouillard, K.G. et al. Ships’ Ballast Water Treatment by Chlorination Can Generate Toxic Trihalomethanes. Bull Environ Contam Toxicol 99, 194–199 (2017).

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  • THMs
  • Seawater
  • Brackish
  • Freshwater
  • TOC
  • IMO D-2 standard