Testing for Trihalomethanes in Your Water (TTHM)
Chlorine has been used to disinfect water for almost a century due to its ability to kill bacteria and viruses in water. The use of chlorine as a disinfectant has been an effective contribution to public health eliminating plagues such as cholera and typhoid, and reducing the incidence of intestinal illness and other health problems caused by waterborne pathogens such as cryptosporidium. The benefits of disinfection, however, do not come without an effect.
Depending on the disinfection procedure used (chlorination, chloramines, bromine, ozone etc.) and the chemical composition of the water prior to disinfection, many different organic chemical disinfection byproducts can form in drinking water. Trihalomethanes (THMs) are a byproduct of chlorine disinfection and to a lesser degree, disinfection using chloroamines. The THMs (chloroform, bromodichloromethane, dibromochloromethane, and bromoform) are formed when free chlorine combines with organic matter, like decaying vegetation commonly found in lakes and reservoirs. Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) are regulated by the EPA at a maximum allowable annual average of 80 parts per billion. Some of the THMs are very volatile and will vaporize into air easily, so they may be inhaled while showering, however, the EPA has determined that this exposure is minimal compared to that from consumption. The Levels of THMs formed can vary widely on a number of factors including temperature, amount of chlorine used, season, and amount of plant material in the water, among others.
Some drinking water systems use chloroamines as a residual disinfection agent in place of chlorine. Chloroamine is not as reactive as chlorine and less THMs are formed. However, there are also drawbacks to chloroamine use. Chloroamine may cause nitrification and corrosion and may also increase exposure to other disinfection byproducts, such as N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA).
EPA Method 524.2 is used to analyze samples for TTHMs. This method involves concentrating the THMs from a water sample using a technique known as purge and trap. This technique isolates the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the water. The VOCs are then desorbed into a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer (GC/MS) where they are separated, their identity is confirmed, and their concentrations are determined. Standard reporting limits for individual TTH with this method are 0.5 µ/L