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Environ Monit Assess. 2014 Jun;186(6):3717-24. doi: 10.1007/s10661-014-3652-6. Epub 2014 Feb 5.

Drinking water treatment is not associated with an observed increase in neural tube defects in mice.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA, 24061, USA.


Disinfection by-products (DBPs) arise when natural organic matter in source water reacts with disinfectants used in the water treatment process. Studies have suggested an association between DBPs and birth defects. Neural tube defects (NTDs) in embryos of untreated control mice were first observed in-house in May 2006 and have continued to date. The source of the NTD-inducing agent was previously determined to be a component of drinking water. Tap water samples from a variety of sources were analyzed for trihalomethanes (THMs) to determine if they were causing the malformations. NTDs were observed in CD-1 mice provided with treated and untreated surface water. Occurrence of NTDs varied by water source and treatment regimens. THMs were detected in tap water derived from surface water but not detected in tap water derived from a groundwater source. THMs were absent in untreated river water and laboratory purified waters, yet the percentage of NTDs in untreated river water were similar to the treated water counterpart. These findings indicate that THMs were not the primary cause of NTDs in the mice since the occurrence of NTDs was unrelated to drinking water disinfection.

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