What's Coming Out of the Tap?
You expect the water that comes out of your tap to be clean and free from harmful materials. But drinking water disinfection is a double-edged sword: although disinfection gets rid of nasty bacteria that can make you sick, disinfection processes themselves can create unintended byproducts. These disinfection byproducts, or DBPs, may have health effects that scientists do not yet fully understand.
EPA scientist Susan Richardson has spent 18 years studying the byproducts of drinking water disinfection. At the EPA, Richardson leads a drinking water research team within the EPA National Exposure Research Laboratory (NERL) Ecosystems Research Division in Athens, Ga. There, she routinely pushes established boundaries and challenges established ideas about exposure to DBPs.
Her research has identified previously unknown DBPs from chlorination and other disinfection techniques, and she has partnered with toxicologists to identify the more toxic DBPs meriting further study. She also was the driving force behind EPA’s Nationwide DBP Occurrence Study, a first-of-its-kind project that investigated some of the more toxic, nonregulated DBPs in the nation’s drinking water.
“DBPs are such an important issue, because they’re formed during water treatment, and in the U.S. almost everybody’s water is treated,” Richardson said.
As part of its mission to protect public health, EPA regulates the quality of the nation’s drinking water by issuing and enforcing safe drinking water standards. The various methods for treating water – such as chlorination, chloramination and ozonation – can each introduce different risks at lower levels. While some risk is unavoidable, Richardson’s DBP research is adding to our body of knowledge about how and to what levels people are exposed to DBPs so that EPA and individuals can make the best possible decisions about minimizing risks.
In April 2008, the American Chemical Society (ACS) recognized Richardson’s groundbreaking work with one of its top awards. Richardson was awarded the ACS Award for Creative Advances in Environmental Science and Technology at the ACS spring conference. ACS is the world’s largest scientific society.
Read more about EPA research on disinfection byproducts.