Insights into unexpected photoisomerization from photooxidation of tribromoacetic acid in aqueous environment using ultrafast spectroscopy

Chi Shun Yeung, Ho Yin TSE, Chun Yin Lau, Jianyu Guan, Jinqing Huang, David Lee Phillips, Shao Yuan Leu

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


Haloacetic acids are carcinogenic disinfection by-products (DPBs) and their photo-decomposition pathways, especially for those containing bromine and iodine, are not fully understood. In this study, femtosecond transient absorption (fs-TA) spectroscopy experiments were introduced for the first time to investigate the photochemistry of tribromoacetic acid. The fs-TA experiments showed that a photoisomerization intermediate species HOOCCBr2−Br (iso-TBAA) was formed within several picoseconds after the excitation of TBAA. The absorption wavelength of the iso-TBAA was supported by time-dependent density calculations. With the Second-order Møller-Plesset perturbation theory, the structures and thermodynamics of the OH-insertion reactions of iso-TBAA were elucidated when water molecules were involved in the reaction complex. The calculations also revealed that the isomer species were able to react with water with its reaction dynamics dramatically catalyzed by the hydrogen bonding network. The proposed water catalyzed OH-insertion/HBr elimination mechanism predicted three major photoproducts, namely, HBr, CO and CO2, which was consistent with the photolysis experiments with firstly reported CO formation rate and mass conversion yield as 0.096 min-1 and 0.75 ± 0.1 respectively. The spectroscopic technique, numerical tool and disclosed mechanisms provided insights on photodecomposition and subsequent reactions of polyhalo-DPBs contain heavy atom(s) (e.g., Br, I) with water, aliphatic alcohols or other nucleophiles.

Original languageEnglish
Article number126214
JournalJournal of Hazardous Materials
Publication statusPublished - 15 Sep 2021


  • Density functional theory
  • Disinfection byproducts
  • Haloacetic acid
  • Solvent-assisted dehalogenation
  • Ultrafast transient absorption spectroscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis

Cite this