Bromoform (also known as tribromomethane) and dibromochloromethane are colorless to yellow, heavy, nonburnable liquids with a sweetish odor. These chemicals are possible contaminants of drinking water that has been chlorinated to kill bacteria and viruses that could cause serious waterborne infectious diseases. Bromoform and dibromochloromethane may form when chlorine reacts with other naturally occurring substances in water, such as decomposing plant material. Plants in the ocean also produce small amounts of these chemicals.
These chemicals are found mainly in water that originally came from surface sources, such as rivers and lakes. Springs and deep drilled wells usually contain very little of the substances that react with chlorine to form these chemicals; therefore, well and spring water is less likely a source of bromoform and dibromochloromethane than water from a reservoir (artificial lake). The amount of bromoform and dibromochloromethane in drinking water can change considerably from day to day, depending on the source, temperature, amount of plant material in the water, amount of chlorine added, and a variety of other factors.
In the past, bromoform was used by industry to dissolve dirt and grease and to make other chemicals. It was also used in the early part of this century as a medicine to help children with whooping cough get to sleep. Currently, bromoform is only produced in small amounts for use in laboratories and in geological and electronics testing. Dibromochloromethane was used in the past to make other chemicals such as fire extinguisher fluids, spray can propellants, refrigerator fluid, and pesticides. It is now only used on a small scale in laboratories.
In the environment, bromoform and dibromochloromethane are not found as pure liquids, but instead, they are found either dissolved in water or evaporated into air as a gas. Both bromoform and dibromochloromethane are relatively stable in the air, but reactions with other chemicals in the air cause them to break down slowly (about 50% in 1 or 2 months). Bromoform and dibromochloromethane in water or soil may also be broken down by bacteria, but the speed of this process is not known.
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Division of Toxicology and Human Health Sciences
1600 Clifton Road NE, Mailstop F-57
Atlanta, GA 30333
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO · 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: contact CDC-INFO
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.