Five oxidants, ozone, chlorine dioxide, chlorine, permanganate, and ferrate were studied with regard to the formation of assimilable organic carbon (AOC) and oxalate in absence and presence of cyanobacteria in lake water matrices. Ozone and ferrate formed significant amounts of AOC, i.e. more than 100 mu g/L AOC were formed with 4.6 mg/L ozone and ferrate in water with 3.8 mg/L dissolved organic carbon. In the same water samples chlorine dioxide, chlorine, and permanganate produced no or only limited AOC. When cyanobacterial cells (Aphanizomenon gracile) were added to the water, an AOC increase was detected with ozone, permanganate, and ferrate, probably due to cell lysis. This was confirmed by the increase of extracellular geosmin, a substance found in the selected cyanobacterial cells. AOC formation by chlorine and chlorine dioxide was not affected by the presence of the cells. The formation of oxalate upon oxidation was found to be a linear function of the oxidant consumption for all five oxidants. The following molar yields were measured in three different water matrices based on oxidant consumed: 2.4-4.4% for ozone, 1.0-2.8% for chlorine dioxide and chlorine, 1.1-1.2% for ferrate, and 11-16% for permanganate. Furthermore, oxalate was formed in similar concentrations as trihalomethanes during chlorination (yield similar to 1% based on chlorine consumed). Oxalate formation kinetics and stoichiometry did not correspond to the AOC formation. Therefore, oxalate cannot be used as a surrogate for AOC formation during oxidative water treatment. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.