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Child Neuropsychological Development Does Not Seem to Be Affected by Exposure to Water Disinfection By-products

It is the first epidemiological study that evaluates prenatal exposure to different DBPEs and neurodevelopment during the first years of life


A study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), institution supported by the ”la Caixa” Foundation, shows a lack of association between exposure to drinking water disinfection by-products (DBP) during pregnancy and neuropsychological development at 1 and 4-5 years of age.

Drinking water disinfection by-products are chemicals in drinking water produced as undesired side effects of disinfection procedures, which are necessary to remove pathogens and prevent waterborne infections. Some initial results suggested that these products could present a health risk, but more recent studies, also by ISGlobal, indicate that they do not have negative health effects.

This new study, published in Environment International, analysed DBP exposure in more than 1,500 women during pregnancy and at birth, and in their children at 14 months and 4-5 years of age, from the INMA mother-child cohort, in four Spanish regions (Asturias, Guipúzcoa, Sabadell and Valencia).

The authors estimated total exposure at the residence (through ingestion, showering, bathing) and analysed the different DBPs separately: chloroform, brominated trihalomethanes (bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, bromoform) and total trihalomethanes (cholororom and brominated THMs). Neuropsychological development was assessed through diagnostic tests developed by a team of psychologists.

Cristina Villanueva , ISGlobal researcher and first author of the study, says “overall, the results do not show a consistent association between DBP exposure during gestation and neuropsychological development at the studied ages. “We observed small associations at 1 year of age but they did not persist at 4-5 years” she explains

Jordi Sunyer , study coordinator and head of the Child Health Programme at ISGlobal, points out that “this is the first epidemiological study to evaluate markers of DPB exposure during pregnancy and neuropsychological outcomes in children”. But he adds that “further research along this line is necessary to confirm the lack of association”.


Drinking water disinfection by-products during pregnancy and child neuropsychological development in the INMA Spanish cohort study. Villanueva CM, Gracia-Lavedan E, Julvez J, Santa-Marina L, Lertxundi N, Ibarluzea J, Llop S, Ballester F, Fernández-Somoano A, Tardón A, Vrijheid M, Guxens M, Sunyer J. Environ Int. 2017 Oct 27. pii: S0160-4120(17)31075-9.