Water and Genotoxic Compounds
What are genotoxic agents, why are they found in treated water and where do they come from?

What is a Genotoxic Agent

Genotoxic agents are physical, chemical or biological compounds that are characterized by the ability to alter the genetics of a living organism, to break the links between the chromosomes or to rearrange the order of these. These agents are known to cause cancer and many other genetic complications.

Genotoxic compounds are sometimes used to good effect in water treatment processes. Since these agents can be in physical, chemical or biological form, they can have advantages such as UV light. Indeed, UV light is a good example since when emitted in good waves, it is a disinfection process known as UV irradiation. UV irradiation allows deactivating certain organic contaminants by cutting off their ability to reproduce.


To learn more about UV Irradiation, visit this article.

Sources of genotoxic contaminants in water

The presence of genotoxic compounds in water can come from human activity (industrial, agricultural or domestic). Due to the wide variety of chemicals that can be used and the popularity of trihalomethanes and PFAS, human activities leave significant traces of genotoxic compounds in surface waters.

Secondly, the decomposition of humic substances from animal and plant wastes also increases the genotoxicity of surface waters when chlorination steps are used.

Indeed, it is now recognized that the chlorination of surface waters induces a mutagenic activity increasing the concentration of genotoxic compounds in the treated water.

In general, the mutagenic activity at the origin of the creation of genotoxic contaminants in water is proportional to the rate of chlorination applied and to the quantity of organohalogen compounds formed.

How to identify genotoxic compounds in water

In general, the identification of genotoxic compounds in water requires the use of data from mass spectrometry and UV or NMR spectroscopy (proton or carbon).

Although other techniques exist, we will not discuss them in this article.

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