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Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2009;198:169-200. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-09647-6_5.

Haloacetonitriles: metabolism and toxicity.

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Environmental Protection Agency, National Center for Environmental Assessment, Cincinnati, Ohio 45268, USA.


The haloacetonitriles (HANs) exist in drinking water exclusively as byproducts of disinfection. HANs are found in drinking water more often, and in higher concentrations, when surface water is treated by chloramination. Human exposure occurs through consumption of finished drinking water; oral and dermal contact also occurs, and results from showering, swimming and other activities. HANs are reactive and are toxic to gastrointestinal tissues following oral administration. Such toxicity is characterized by GSH depletion, increased lipid peroxidation, and covalent binding of HAN-associated radioactivity to gut tissues. The presence of GSH in cells is an important protective mechanism against HAN toxicity; depletion of cellular GSH results in increased toxicity. Some studies have demonstrated an apparently synergistic effect between ROS and HAN administration, that may help explain effects observed in GI tissues. ROS are produced in gut tissues, and in vitro evidence indicates that ROS may contribute to the degradation and formation of reactive intermediates from HANs. The rationale for ROS involvement may involve HAN-induced depletion of GSH and the role of GSH in scavenging ROS. In addition to effects on GI tissues, studies show that HAN-derived radiolabel is found covalently bound to proteins and DNA in several organs and tissues. The addition of antioxidants to biologic systems protects against HAN-induced DNA damage. The protection offered by antioxidants supports the role of oxidative stress and the potential for a threshold in han-induced toxicity. However, additional data are needed to substantiate evidence for such a threshold. HANs are readily absorbed from the GI tract and are extensively metabolized. Elimination occurs primarily in urine, as unconjugated one-carbon metabolites. Evidence supports the involvement of mixed function oxidases, the cytochrome P450 enzyme family and GST, in HAN metabolism. Metabolism represents either a detoxification or bioactivation process, depending on the particular HAN and the enzyme involved. HANs can inhibit CYP2E1-mediated metabolism, an effect which may be dependent on a covalent interaction with the enzyme. In addition, HAN compounds inhibit GST-mediated conjugation, but this effect is reversible upon dialysis, indicating that the interaction does not represent covalent binding. No subchronic studies of HAN toxicity are available in the literature. However, studies show that HANs produce developmental toxicity in experimental animals. The nature of developmental toxicity is affected by the type of administration vehicle, which renders interpretation of results more difficult. Skin tumors have been found following dermal application of HANs, but oral studies for carcinogenicity are negative. Pulmonary adenomas were increased following oral administration of HANs, but the A/J strain of mice employed has a characteristically high background rate of such tumors. HANs interact with DNA to produce unscheduled DNA repair, SCE and reverse mutations in Salmonella. HANs did not induce micronuclei or cause alterations in sperm head morphology in mice, but did induce micronuclei in newts. Thus, there is concern for the potential carcinogenicity of HANs. It would be valuable to delineate any relationship between the apparent threshold for micronuclei formation in newts and the potential mechanism of toxicity involving HAN-induced oxidative stress. Dose-response studies in rodents may provide useful information on toxicity mechanisms and dose selection for longer term toxicity studies. Additional studies are warranted before drawing firm conclusions on the hazards of HAN exposure. Moreover, additional studies on HAN-DNA and HAN-protein interaction mechanisms, are needed. Such studies can better characterize the role of metabolism in toxicity of individual HANs, and delineate the role of oxidative stress, both of which enhance the capacity to predict risk. Most needed, now, are new subchronic (and chronic) toxicity studies; the results of such well-planned, controlled, conducted, interpreted and published investigations would be valuable in establishing margins of safety for HANs in human health risk assessment.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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