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Bromines and their Associated Disinfectant By-Products (DBP’s)


Just like Chlorine, Bromine is used as a sanitiser for recreational water, typically when the water temperature is in excess of 35°C, where such high temperatures would usually degrade chlorine quite rapidly, leaving swimmers susceptible to infection(s). For this reason, Bromine is a common choice of sanitiser for spas.

Bromine reacts with water (H20) to form Hypobromous Acid and Hypobromite Ion (commonly known as Free Bromine), but unlike Free Chlorine, both forms of Free Bromine are strong oxidising agents.

Swimmers release both organic waste, which may include sweat, urine, faecal matter, hair, skin and inorganic waste products, such as sunscreen, makeup, deodorants, and creams during the course of their time in the water.

Chlorine reacts with this various waste matter in the water to form Chloramines, similarly, Bromine also reacts in the same manner to form Bromomines. Bromine and Bromide present in water have the ability to form the Brominated Disinfectant By-Products (DBPs) below:
• Bromoform

• dibromoacetic acid;
• tribromoacetic acid;
• bromoacetic acid;
• bromochloroacetic acid;
• bromodichloroacetic acid
• dibromochloroacetic acid;
• dibromoacetonitrile;
• 2-bromo-2-methylpropanal;
• 2,3,5-tribromopyrrole;
• bromoacetone;
• bromoalkanes;
• bromohydrins; and
• brominated trihalomethanes (including bromodichloromethane, chlorodibromomethane,
and tribromomethane (bromoform)).

The three various ways in which swimmers’ uptake DBP’s include ingestion, absorption and inhalation. However, inhalation of DBP’s can occur to persons not swimming but rather in the surrounding areas of the water. This could include lifeguards, office staff, maintenance staff, parents onlooking, etc.
“Several brominated DBPs have been shown in animal studies to be more carcinogenic than their chlorinated analogs” (Richardson, 2003a).

“Symptoms of acute bromine toxicity via the inhalation route include respiratory irritation/distress and central nervous system effects (all dependant on concentration). Bromine is highly irritating to the skin in both liquid and vapour form, with appearance of injury in the form of often delayed blister formation. Ocular irritation following exposure to bromine vapour is reported. Although rare, ingestion of liquid bromine is associated with haemorrhagic nephritis, with oliguria or anuria, developing within 1 to 2 days.

Where comparisons can be made, the findings from human studies are supported by those from animal studies. The acute toxicity of bromide is considered to be very low”(WHO 2018).

There is currently no regulatory levels or required monitoring of DBP’s here in Australia, but perhaps given the research available and its findings, there really should be for protecting the health of the public.

Written by John Morrison Bsc


World Health organisation (WHO). 2018. Bromine as a drinking – water disinfectant.

Richardson S (2003a). Disinfection by-products and other emerging contaminants in drinking water.

RAA Carter Oz Water. 2015. Disinfection By-products: Not just an issue for drinking water, but also potentially for swimming pool waters. An analysis of three indoor pubic swimming pools and one heated indoor spa in Western Australia.

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