WHAT ARE TTHM?
TRIHALOMETHANES (TTHMs or THMs) are chemical compounds in which three of the four hydrogen atoms of methane (CH4) are replaced by halogen atoms. Many trihalomethanes find uses in industry as solvents or refrigerants. Trihalomethanes are also environmental pollutants, and many are considered carcinogenic. Trihalomethanes with all the same halogen atoms are called haloforms. Several of these are easy to prepare through the haloform reaction.
Trihalomethanes were the first new drinking water regulation EPA issued after passage of the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency had the responsibility to produce all of the supporting information, and in quite considerable detail, and use that information, be it toxicology, analytical chemistry, occurrence, treatment technology, costs, economic impact, to craft its regulation.
WHAT ARE THEY USED FOR?
Trifluoromethane and chlorodifluoromethane are both used as refrigerants in some applications. Trihalomethanes released to the environment break down faster than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), thereby doing much less damage to the ozone layer. Chlorodifluoromethane is a refrigerant HCFC, or hydrochlorofluorocarbon, while fluoroform is an HFC, or hydrofluorocarbon. Fluoroform is not ozone depleting.
Unfortunately, the breakdown of trihalomethane HCFCs does still result in the creation of some free chlorine radicals in the upper atmosphere and subsequent ozone destruction. Ideally, HCFCs will be phased out entirely in favour of entirely nonchlorinated refrigerants.
Chloroform is a very common solvent used in organic chemistry. It is a significantly less polar solvent than water, well-suited to dissolving many organic compounds. Although still toxic and potentially carcinogenic, chloroform is significantly less harmful than carbon tetrachloride. Because of the health and regulatory issues associated with the use of carbon tetrachloride, in modern chemistry laboratories chloroform is used as a cheaper, cleaner alternative wherever possible.
LONG-TERM HEALTH EFFECTS
Trihalomethanes (THMs) are the result of a reaction between the chlorine used for disinfecting tap water and natural organic matter in the water. At elevated levels, THMs have been associated with negative health effects such as cancer and adverse reproductive outcomes. Now a study by government and academic researchers adds to previous evidence that dermal absorption and inhalation of THMs associated with everyday tap water use can result in significantly higher blood THM concentrations than simply drinking the water does [EHP 113:863–870].
- Water contaminants causing community concern in Vidor (The Examiner, SE Texas)
- Contaminant found in Nueces WSC water supply (USA Today/Corpus Christi Caller Times)
- Flint Water Crisis Fast Facts (CNN)
- Williamson Co. customers not notified of water contaminant for months
- What's In The Water We Drink?
- City warns of potential health risks after Flint water tests revealed too much disinfection byproduct (MLive/Flint)
- 12 critical facts about TTHM, the stubborn Flint water contaminant (MLive/Flint)
- Alliance water customers receive TTHM notification (The Review/Alliance, OH)