Spatial variation of disinfection by-product concentrations: Exposure assessment implications

Amanda M. Evans, J. Michael Wright, Amy Meyer, Zorimar Rivera-Núñez

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14 Scopus citations


The use of public water system (PWS) average trihalomethane (THM) and haloacetic acid (HAA) concentrations as surrogates of "personal" exposures in epidemiological studies of disinfection by-products (DBPs) may result in exposure misclassification bias from various sources of measurement error including intra-system variation of DBPs. Using 2000-2004 data from 107 PWSs in Massachusetts, we assessed two approaches for characterizing DBP spatial variability by identifying PWSs with low spatial variability (LSV) and examining differences in LSV across DBP groups and by type of source water and primary disinfectant. We also used spatial differences to examine the association between THM concentrations and indices of social disadvantage; however, we found no correlations or statistically significant differences based on the available data. We observed similar patterns for the percentage of quarterly sampling dates with LSV across different types of source water for all DBPs but not across disinfectants. We found there was little overlap between sites classified as having LSV across different DBP groups. In the main analysis, we found moderate correlations between both approaches (φTHM4=0.55; φBrTHM=0.64; φHAA5=0.67); although Method 1 (based on concentration differences between samples) may be better suited for identifying PWSs for inclusion in epidemiological studies because it is more easily adapted to study-specific exposure gradients than Method 2 (based on categorical exposure percentiles). These data reinforce the need to consider different exposure assessment approaches when examining the spatial variation of multiple DBP surrogates as they can represent different DBP mixtures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6130-6140
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
Issue number16
StatePublished - Oct 15 2013
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


  • Bias
  • Brominated trihalomethanes
  • Environmental epidemiology
  • Exposure measurement error
  • Exposure misclassification
  • Haloacetic acids
  • Intra-system variability


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