The potential of ferrate (Fe(VI)) oxidation to remove N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) precursors during water treatment was assessed. Apparent second-order rate constants (k(app)) for the reactions of NDMA and its suspected precursors (dimethylamine (DMA) and 7 tertiary amines with DMA functional group) with Fe(VI) were determined in the range of pH 6-12. Four model NDMA precursors (dimethyldithiocarbamate, dimethylaminobenzene, 3-(dimethylaminomethyl)indole and 4-dimethylaminoantipyrine) showed high reactivity toward Fe(VI) with k(app) values at pH 7 between 2.6 x 10(2) and 3.2 x 10(5) M-1 s(-1). The other NDMA precursors (DMA, trimethylamine, dimethylethanolamine, dimethylformamide) and NDMA had kapp values ranging from 0.55 to 9.1 M-1 s(-1) at pH 7. In the second part of the study, the NDMA formation potentials (NDMA-FP) of the model NDMA precursors and natural waters were measured with and without pre-oxidation by Fe(VI). For most of the NDMA precursors with the exception of DMA, a significant reduction of the NDMA-FP (>95%) was observed after complete transformation of the NDMA precursor. This result was supported by low yields of DMA from the Fe(VI) oxidation of tertiary amine NDMA precursors. Pre-oxidation of several natural waters (rivers Rhine, Neckar and Pfinz) with a high dose of Fe(VI) (0.38 mM = 21 mg L-1 as Fe) led to removals of the NDMA-FP of 46-84%. This indicates that the NDMA precursors in these waters have a low reactivity toward Fe(VI) because it has been shown that for fast-reacting NDMA precursors Fe(VI) doses of 20 mu M (1.1 mg L-1 as Fe) are sufficient to completely oxidize the precursors. (C) 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.