Transformation of acesulfame in chlorination: Kinetics study, identification of byproducts, and toxicity assessment

Adela Jing Li, Pengran Wu, Japhet Cheuk Fung Law, Chi Hang Chow, Cristina Postigo, Ying Guo*, Kelvin Sze-Yin Leung*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

47 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Acesulfame (ACE) is one of the most commonly used artificial sweeteners. Because it is not metabolized in the human gut, it reaches the aquatic environment unchanged. In the present study, the reactivity of ACE in free chlorine-containing water was investigated for the first time. The degradation of ACE was found to follow pseudo-first-order kinetics. The first-order rate increased with decreasing pH from 9.4 to 4.8 with estimated half-lives from 693 min to 2 min. Structural elucidation of the detected transformation products (TPs) was performed by ultra-high performance liquid chromatography coupled with quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry. Integration of MS/MS fragments, isotopic pattern and exact mass allowed the characterization of up to 5 different TPs in the ultrapure water extracts analyzed, including two proposed new chlorinated compounds reported for the first time. Unexpectedly, several known and regulated disinfection by-products (DBPs) were present in the ACE chlorinated solution. In addition, two of the six DBPs are proposed as N-DBPs. Time-course profiles of ACE and the identified by-products in tap water and wastewater samples were followed in order to simulate the actual disinfection process. Tap water did not significantly affect degradation, but wastewater did; it reacted with the ACE to produce several brominated-DBPs. A preliminary assessment of chlorinated mixtures by luminescence inhibition of Vibrio fischeri showed that these by-products were up to 1.8-fold more toxic than the parent compound. The generation of these DBPs, both regulated and not, representing enhanced toxicity, make chlorine disinfection a controversial treatment for ACE. Further efforts are urgently needed to both assess the consequences of current water treatment processes on ACE and to develop new processes that will safely treat ACE. Human health and the health of our aquatic ecosystems are at stake.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-166
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jun 2017

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution

User-Defined Keywords

  • Acesulfame
  • Chlorination
  • Disinfection by-products
  • Environmental fate
  • Kinetics


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