Science

Study finds world's rivers loaded with antibiotics waste

Study finds world's rivers loaded with antibiotics waste”

The UN estimates that the rise in antibiotic resistance could kill 10 million people by 2050.

In one site in Bangladesh, levels of metronidazole - which is used to treat mouth and skin infections - were 300 times greater than what is considered safe.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 500,000 people suffer from varying degrees of antibiotics resistance, which would make them resistant against treatment for E. coli bacterial infections, staph infections, pneumonia, and salmonella.

"We've known that antibiotics were present in our rivers for some time, but our study is the first to quantify them on a global scale", says Alistair Boxall, a scientist with the York Environmental Sustainability Institute, who co-led the research.

In 111 of the sites, the concentrations of antibiotics exceeded safe levels, with the worst cases more than 300 times over the safe limit. Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan and Nigeria all topped the list for most contaminated.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of river sites tested in North America and 18 percent of river sites in South America contained unsafe levels of the drugs.

Most of the major rivers in the world, a majority of them in Asia and Africa, are contaminated with an alarming level of antibiotics.

The Thames, generally regarded as one of Europe's cleanest rivers, was contaminated, along with some of its tributaries, by a mixture of five antibiotics.

Ciprofloxacin, a frontline treatment for intestinal and urinary tract infections, surpassed the industry threshold at 51 of the sites tested.

The study revealed that high-risk sites were typically adjacent to wastewater treatment systems and waste or sewage dumps.

The researchers compared the monitoring data with "safe" levels, which is depending on the antibiotic, range from 20 ng/l to 32,000 ng/l. Partners across the world were asked to take samples from locations along their local river system.

"Improving the safe management of health and hygiene services in low-income countries is critical in the fight against antimicrobial resistance", said Helen Hamilton, health and hygiene analyst at the UK-based charity Water Aid. Other regions that had excessive antibiotic concentrations in rivers included North and South American and Europe.

"Many scientists and policymakers now recognize the role of the natural environment in the antimicrobial resistance problem. Often on only a handful of antibiotics", Dr. John Wilkinson, Department of Environment and Geography, University of York, said. "Our study helps fill this key knowledge gap with data being generated for countries that had never been monitored before", he said.

"Solving the problem will require investment in infrastructure for waste treatment and wastewater treatment, more stringent regulation and purification of the already polluted areas", - said the authors of the study.

The two-day annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry ends on Tuesday.



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