Ozonation of drinking water results in the formation of low molecular weight (LMW) organic by-products. These compounds are easily utilisable by microorganisms and can result in biological instability of the water. In this study, we have combined a novel bioassay for assessment of assimilable organic carbon (AOC) with the detection of selected organic acids, aldehydes and ketones to study organic by-product formation during ozonation. We have investigated the kinetic evolution of LMW compounds as a function of ozone exposure. A substantial fraction of the organic compounds formed immediately upon exposure to ozone and organic acids comprised 60-80% of the newly formed AOC. Based on experiments performed with and without hydroxyl radical scavengers, we concluded that direct ozone reactions were mainly responsible for the formation of small organic compounds. It was also demonstrated that the laboratory-scale experiments are adequate models to describe the formation of LMW organic compounds during ozonation in full-scale treatment of surface water. Thus, the kinetic and mechanistic information gained during the laboratory-scale experiments can be utilised for upscaling to full-scale water treatment plants. (c) 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.