Mutagenicity of drinking water is due not only to industrial, agricultural and urban pollution but also to chlorine disinfection by-products. Furthermore, residual disinfection is used to provide a partial safeguard against low level contamination and bacterial re-growth within the distribution system. The aims of this study were to further evaluate the genotoxic potential of the world wide used disinfectants sodium hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide in human leukocytes by the Comet assay and in Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain D7 (mitotic gene conversion, point mutation and mitochondrial DNA mutability, with and without endogenous metabolic activation) and to compare their effects with those of peracetic acid, proposed as an alternative disinfectant. All three disinfectants are weakly genotoxic in human leukocytes (lowest effective dose 0.2 p.p.m. for chlorine dioxide, 0.5 p.p.m. for sodium hypochlorite and peracetic acid). The results in S.cerevisiae show a genotoxic response on the end-points considered with an effect only at doses higher (5- to 10-fold) than the concentration normally used for water disinfection; sodium hypochlorite and peracetic acid are able to induce genotoxic effects without endogenous metabolic activation (in stationary phase cells) whereas chlorine dioxide is effective in growing cells. The Comet assay was more sensitive than the yeast tests, with effective doses in the range normally used for water disinfection processes. The biological effectiveness of the three disinfectants on S.cerevisiae proved to be strictly dependent on cell-specific physiological/biochemical conditions. All the compounds appear to act on the DNA and peracetic acid shows effectiveness similar to sodium hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide.
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