Unexpected products and reaction mechanisms of the aqueous chlorination of cimetidine

Jeffrey M. Buth, Bill Arnold, Kristopher McNeill

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61 Scopus citations


Many pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) resist degradation in wastewater treatment plants. Thus, they may be transformed by chemical disinfectants in the final treatment stage, generating products that may possess enhanced toxicity/biological activity relative to the parent compounds. For this reason, the reaction of cimetidine, an over-the-counter antacid, with the frequently used disinfectant, free chlorine, was investigated. Cimetidine degraded rapidly in the presence of excess free chlorine, indicating that it will likely undergo significant transformation during wastewater disinfection. Four major products were isolated and extensively characterized by comparison of liquid chromatographic retention times to known standards, mass spectrometry, 1H- and 2D-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, and infrared spectroscopy. An expected sulfur oxidation product, cimetidine sulfoxide, was identified along with three unexpected products: 4-hydroxymethyl-5-methyl-1H- imidazole, 4-chloro-5-methyl-1H-imidazole, and a product proposed to be either a β- or δ-sultam. The last three products are formed by transformations not frequently observed in free chlorine reactions of PPCPs such as C-C bond cleavage and intramolecular nucleophilic substitution. The unexpected transformations yielded compounds with more substantial structural changes than would be observed in common free chlorine reactions such as N-chlorination or electrophilic halogenation. The reaction pathway was elucidated by kinetic analysis and by independently treating isolated intermediates with free chlorine, and reaction mechanisms were proposed. Finally, the predicted no-effect concentration (PNEC) of the chlorination products was estimated, and the products 4-hydroxymethyl-5-methyl-1H-imidazole and 4-chloro-5-methyl-1H-imidazole were estimated to have lower PNECs than cimetidine.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6228-6233
Number of pages6
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 1 2007


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