Environment

Antibiotics found in world's rivers at levels up to 300 times above safe levels

Antibiotics found in world's r...
A new study has found that in over 100 of 700 river samples taken, antibiotic concentrations were at levels exceeding safe concentrations, with the Danube found to be the most contaminated river in Europe
A new study has found that in over 100 of 700 river samples taken, antibiotic concentrations were at levels exceeding safe concentrations, with the Danube found to be the most contaminated river in Europe
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A new study has found that in over 100 of 700 river samples taken, antibiotic concentrations were at levels exceeding safe concentrations, with the Danube found to be the most contaminated river in Europe
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A new study has found that in over 100 of 700 river samples taken, antibiotic concentrations were at levels exceeding safe concentrations, with the Danube found to be the most contaminated river in Europe

In a massive global study, led by researchers at the University of York, hundreds of rivers around the world have been tested for levels of common antibiotics. The study found 65 percent of all samples contained some concentration of antibiotics, with the worst cases showing levels more than 300 times higher than the generally accepted safe threshold.

The study is the first to coordinate such a broad global survey of the world's rivers, examining levels of 14 common antibiotics from 711 sites across 72 countries. John Wilkinson, one of the researchers coordinating this large project, suggests that alongside many regions never before monitored, this is the largest antibiotic survey ever conducted.

"Until now, the majority of environmental monitoring work for antibiotics has been done in Europe, North America and China. Often on only a handful of antibiotics," says Wilkinson. "We know very little about the scale of problem globally."

The striking results found antibiotics in 65 percent of the 711 sites, and 111 samples revealed concentrations exceeding generally accepted safe levels. The majority of sites exceeding safe antibiotic concentrations were found in Africa and Asia, however, eight percent of sites sampled in Europe and 15 percent of sites sampled in North America were above safe limits.

Five different antibiotics were found in London's famous River Thames, while the Danube was Europe's most contaminated river. The most commonly found antibiotic was trimethoprim, used to treat urinary tracts infections and found in nearly half of all sampled rivers. One of the most polluted samples in the study came from a site in Bangladesh, revealing the presence of metronidazole at levels 300 times higher than the safe recommendation.

"The results are quite eye opening and worrying, demonstrating the widespread contamination of river systems around the world with antibiotic compounds," says Alistair Boxall, from the York Environmental Sustainability Institute.

A major concern following on from this research is the role this contamination may play in the ongoing evolution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Prior research has revealed the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in UK waterways, and this new study suggests the broader global contamination of our waterways with antibiotics could be speeding up this potential crisis.

"Many scientists and policy makers now recognize the role of the natural environment in the antimicrobial resistance problem," says Boxall. "Our data show that antibiotic contamination of rivers could be an important contributor. Solving the problem is going to be a mammoth challenge and will need investment in infrastructure for waste and wastewater treatment, tighter regulation and the cleaning up of already contaminated sites."

The research is to be presented at upcoming annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) in Helsinki this week.

Source: University of York

8 comments
BlueOak
So do we need a deposit on Antibiotics just like on soda and beer cans/bottles? (That sure did work in our state.) Can't imagine with all the publicity of "Operation Medicine Cabinet" in the US at least - that anyone would be so stupid as to throw pharmaceuticals down the drain or even in the trash. It so easy to find legit places to properly discard. Even our local police station has it.
RangerJones
"Clean them up"? Can't think of any way to do that without contaminating in a whole other way possibly worse.
Observer101
How much comes from "treatment plant outflow", how much comes from individuals, and how much comes from manufacturers? I HOPE that the CAUSE of contamination is addressed, and NOT the drugs themselves... PEOPLE need them, but there has got to be a better way of preventing contamination of the waters...
EZ
Since all this garbage was created by Big Pharma it seems only reasonable that they contribute toward a solution. Natural antibiotics are not made out of petroleum and do not pollute. Some of them work much better than the fake drugs anyway.
Nelson Hyde Chick
Humanity is a cancer on this planet!
ljaques
Disgusting. Flushing drugs of any kind down the toilet has been the default method of disposal during my lifetime, as recommended by doctors, the media, and schools. If that hasn't changed, it needs to NOW! It is highly likely that the massive quantities of all sorts of drugs going back into the rivers through the sanitation process are getting sucked back up and fed to everyone through the water system. That's the next testing I'd like to see stats on. What's coming through our water lines in cities? I feel glad to be on a water well here.
macroman
For all of you jumping to the conclusion that this is from people throwing their pills down the toilet, I would suggest that, just like with antidepressants now found in the water everywhere, it is just the unmetabolized remains being excreted in urine. Sewage treatment plants are currently unable to filter out all of these chemicals. This is not user error, (throwing them in the toilet) this is the process as designed.
wendorms
The next time I get a bad cut or get the flu, I'll just jump in a river!