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Sci Total Environ. 1985 Dec;47:385-413.

Carcinogenic and mutagenic properties of chemicals in drinking water.


Isolated cases of careless handling of industrial and domestic waste has lead to a wide variety of dangerous chemicals being inadvertently introduced into drinking water. However, chemicals with established carcinogenic and mutagenic properties that occur with a high frequency and in multiple locations are limited in number. To date, the chief offenders have been chemicals of relatively low carcinogenic potency. Some of the more common chemicals are formed as by-products of disinfection. The latter process is generally regarded as essential to the production of a "microbiologically safe" drinking water. Consequently, any reductions in what may be a relatively small carcinogenic risk must be balanced against a potential for a higher frequency of waterborne infectious disease. The results of recent toxicological investigations will be reviewed to place the potential carcinogenic and mutagenic hazards frequently associated with drinking water into perspective. First, evidence for the carcinogenicity of certain volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene, tetrachloroethylene and carbon tetrachloride is considered. Second, the carcinogenic activity that can be ascribed to various by-products of chlorination is reviewed in some detail. Finally, recent evidence that other chemicals derived from the treatment and distribution of drinking water is highlighted as an area requiring move systematic attention.

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