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Environ Health Perspect. 2013 May;121(5):600-6. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1205220. Epub 2013 Feb 19.

Health implications of PAH release from coated cast iron drinking water distribution systems in The Netherlands.

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  • 1KWR Watercycle Research Institute, Nieuwegein, The Netherlands.



Coal tar and bitumen have been historically used to coat the insides of cast iron drinking water mains. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) may leach from these coatings into the drinking water and form a potential health risk for humans.


We estimated the potential human cancer risk from PAHs in coated cast iron water mains.


In a Dutch nationwide study, we collected drinking water samples at 120 locations over a period of 17 days under various operational conditions, such as undisturbed operation, during flushing of pipes, and after a mains repair, and analyzed these samples for PAHs. We then estimated the health risk associated with an exposure scenario over a lifetime.


During flushing, PAH levels frequently exceeded drinking water quality standards; after flushing, these levels dropped rapidly. After the repair of cast iron water mains, PAH levels exceeded the drinking water standards for up to 40 days in some locations.


The estimated margin of exposure for PAH exposure through drinking water was > 10,000 for all 120 measurement locations, which suggests that PAH exposure through drinking water is of low concern for consumer health. However, factors that differ among water systems, such as the use of chlorination for disinfection, may influence PAH levels in other locations.

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