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For the record

Chlorinated water and birth defects

On June 1st 2008, the Mail on Sunday published an article entitled Chlorine in tap water ‘nearly doubles the risk of birth defects’ which claimed that research suggested “drinking tap water while pregnant may double the risk of serious heart or brain defects in the unborn child” and that this “danger comes from chemical by-products in chlorinated water known as trihalomethanes, or THMs, which can be absorbed through the skin”. The Daily Mail subsequently covered the story on June 3rd with an article entitled Drinking or even showering in tap water can double the risk of having deformed children, says study. Both articles were based on research published in the journal Environmental Health (Hwang B-F, Jaakkola JJK Guo H-R, Environ Health 2008, 7:23)].


The Behind the Headlines website from the NHS Knowledge Service has responded to these news stories:
“Overall, the authors themselves state that “our results showed no consistent association between exposure and risk of birth defects in general”, but go on to suggest that it is better to look at specific birth defects. However, this study does not provide results robust enough to conclude that THMs affect the risk of any type of birth defect, and should not cause women to be concerned about drinking water. Pregnant women should stick to their doctor’s advice on the foods and drink that should be avoided in pregnancy.”


More information can be found on the NHS website, which also includes links to all the newspaper coverage.

Author: Sense About Science

Document type: For The Record

Published: 10 June 2008


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