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Levels of “potentially harmful” chemicals called haloacetic acids in tap water can now be measured thanks to a funded study by the National Research Council of the Philippines. (Photo by Val A. Zabala, S&T Media Service, DOST-NRCP)

A new method to determine concentrations of “potentially harmful” chemicals known as “haloacetic acids” in local water supply has been developed through a research funded by the National Research Council of the Philippines (NRCP). Haloacetic acids or compounds are by-products of water disinfection, chlorination, and ozonation, and are regulated in water processing systems of many developed countries.

“This new method may be used by relevant agencies, government and private laboratories, and regulatory bodies, as viable tool to measure and monitor the safety levels of water regarding said chemicals. It has low-detection limits, has good linear response, has acceptable accuracy, and showed good reproducibility,” said Dr. Maria Pythias B. Espino, NRCP Division X (Chemical Sciences) regular member and University of the Philippines Diliman associate professor.

At high levels, haloacetic acids can cause adverse effects in humans as eye or skin irritation, or increased risk of cancers and birth defects for pregnant women.

Dr. Espino revealed the results of her study entitled “Haloacetic Acids and its Formation in Bromide and Chloride-Rich Water Systems” in a recent research forum conducted by NRCP.

Haloacetic acids in Manila tap

However, the study also confirmed the presence of haloacetic acids in tap water samples around Metro Manila. Specifically, tap water of preselected households in Las Piñas, Parañaque, Marikina, Quezon City, Valenzuela, and a treatment facility in Quezon City contained varying amounts of monobromoacetic and dichloroacetic acids (MBAA and DCAA). Said Quezon City facility’s treated water also tested positive for monochloroacetic acids (MCAA), while dibromoacetic acids (DBAA) were present as well in both its treated and untreated water. Also, MBAA and DCAA were found in samples from the Marikina and Pasig rivers.

As whether or not the results warrant a public concern, the researcher said that it is difficult to give a definitive statement, but further investigations on local water supply are recommended, especially ones intended for human consumption, including other commercially available water products and providers.

“[Haloacetic acids] are formed when water disinfection process reacts with organic matter. However, water disinfection cannot be compromised and should still be top priority,” explained the researcher.

“The goal then is to ensure safe levels of these chlorination by-products in our local water supply,” she added.

Aside from the lack of literature and baseline information, she also cited the lack of clear-cut regulations on safety levels of haloacetic acids locally at present.

Through the dissemination of these findings, the researcher hopes to gain interest and more funding from government and R&D institutes for more robust follow-up analyses, including spatial and temporal analyses, to evaluate local water supply and meanwhile also address local dearth in baseline data and information.

Dr. Maria Pythias B. Espino, NRCP member and University of the Philippines Diliman associate professor, presents the results of her study entitled “Haloacetic Acids and its Formation in Bromide and Chloride-Rich Water Systems” in one of the recent forums conducted by NRCP. (Photo by Val A. Zabala, S&T Media Service, DOST-NRCP)

For full copy of the policy brief or more information about the research, please call 837-6141 or 837-2071 local 2346. NRCP is a government arm in basic research under the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). It serves as a collegial policy advisory body for guided and science-based decisions, including pressing national concerns.

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