Drinking water was treated with ozone, chlorine, chlorine dioxide, monochloramine, ferrate(VI), and permanganate to investigate the kinetics of membrane damage of native drinking water bacterial cells. Membrane damage was measured by flow cytometry using a combination of SYBR Green I and propidium iodide (SGI+PI) staining as indicator for cells with permeabilized membranes and SGI alone to measure total cell concentration. SGI+PI staining revealed that the cells were permeabilized upon relatively low oxidant exposures of all tested oxidants without a detectable lag phase. However, only ozonation resulted in a decrease of the total cell concentrations for the investigated reaction times. Rate constants for the membrane damage reaction varied over seven orders of magnitude in the following order: ozone > chlorine > chlorine dioxide approximate to ferrate > permanganate > chloramine. The rate constants were compared to literature data and were in general smaller than previously measured rate constants. This confirmed that membrane integrity is a conservative and therefore safe parameter for disinfection control. Interestingly, the cell membranes of high nucleic acid (HNA) content bacteria were damaged much faster than those of low nucleic acid (LNA) content bacteria during treatment with chlorine dioxide and permanganate. However, only small differences were observed during treatment with chlorine and chloramine, and no difference was observed for ferrate treatment. Based on the different reactivity of these oxidants it was suggested that HNA and LNA bacterial cell membranes have a different chemical constitution. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.