Valium and other modern tranquilizers largely replaced barbiturate drugs 30 years ago. However, barbiturates are still detectable among the pharmaceutical and personal care products that wind up in the environment, researchers in Germany report.
Thomas P. Knepper and colleagues conducted what they believe to be the first systematic search for barbiturates in the environment. The results are scheduled for publication in the Dec. 1 issue of the ACS semi-monthly journal, Environmental Science & Technology.
Use of phenobarbital and other barbiturates, once a mainstay of sedatives and hypnotics, has declined dramatically since introduction of safer alternatives in the 1970s.
Researchers knew that barbiturates have a chemical trait that makes compounds resistant to biodegradation; so they expected to find traces of barbiturates in groundwater sites that had been infiltrated by wastewater decades ago. Knepper's group was surprised, however, to find significant concentrations of the drugs in a river.
The river was near a landfill in Germany, and researchers suspect that barbiturates leaked out. They recommend monitoring ground water near landfills for barbiturates, especially those containing old medical waste.
About 2,000 tons of barbiturates were produced each year in the United States during the 1960s, the study notes.
Materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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