‘Widespread contamination’: Study finds rivers around globe tainted with antibiotics

The concentration of antibiotics found in some of the world’s rivers has exceeded levels considered to be safe by up to 300 times, and could contribute to the emerging global health crisis caused by antimicrobial resistance, a new study has found.Story continues belowThe study led by the University of York in the U.K. examined the concentrations of 14 commonly used antibiotics in rivers in 72 countries on six continents and detected antibiotics at 65 per cent of the sites monitored.READ MORE: Over-the-Counter Culture — Why you shouldn’t flush medication down the toiletResearchers compared the data with levels established by the Antimicrobial Resistance Industry Alliance, which outlines the “safe range” as anywhere from 20,000 to 32,000 nanograms per litre (ng/l) of water depending on the antibiotic.What researchers foundThe study found metronidazole, which is used to treat bacterial infections such as skin and mouth infections, exceeded safe levels by the largest margin. At one site in Bangladesh, metronidazole was found in concentrations 300 times greater than the safe level.According to the study, in the River Thames and one of its tributaries in London, researchers detected a maximum total antibiotic concentration of 233 ng/l — well within the safe range.However, in Bangladesh, the study found the concentration was 170 times higher.READ MORE: How Canada ‘dropped the ball’ on drug-resistant infectionsResearchers also detected trimethoprim — a drug primarily used to treat urinary tract infections — at 307 of the 711 sites, making it the most prevalent antibiotic found during the study.The study found ciprofloxacin, used to treat a number of bacterial infections, was the antibiotic found most frequently exceeding safe levels, surpassing the safety threshold at 51 of the monitored sites.WATCH: How to dispose of prescription drugs safelyResearchers found that antibiotics exceeded safe levels by the greatest degree at sites in Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan and Nigeria. However sites in Europe, North America and South America also recorded levels of concern.The study also revealed that high-risk sites were most often found adjacent to wastewater treatment systems or waste or sewage dumps and in some areas of political turmoil.How Canada measures upAccording to Dr. John Wilkinson, from the University of York’s department of environment and Geography, while 15 per cent of the sites studied in North America exceeded the safe range, none of those sites were in Canada.Wilkinson, who co-ordinated the study’s monitoring work, told Global News researchers collected samples in Toronto, Calgary and Ottawa, and did detect antibiotics at each of the sites, however, they did not exceed the ‘safe’ threshold.This, Wilkinson says, is largely due to Canada’s effective wastewater treatment infrastructure.Water contamination and the effect on humansA December 2017 report from UN Environment found when antimicrobial compounds from households, hospitals, pharmaceutical facilities and agricultural run-off released into the environment came into direct contact with natural bacteria it resulted in bacterial evolution and the emergence of more drug-resistant strains.“Once consumed, most antibiotic drugs are excreted un-metabolized along with resistant bacteria – up to 80 per cent of consumed antibiotics,” the report reads.READ MORE: Antibiotic shortages a growing problem worldwide, report saysWith human antibiotic use having increased 36 per cent in the 21st century, and the use of livestock antibiotics predicted to increase by 67 per cent by 2030, the problem is a growing one, the report says.According to the report, up to 75 per cent of antibiotics used in aquaculture may be lost into the surrounding environment.Additionally, the report says wastewater treatment facilities are unable to remove all antibiotics and resistant bacteria, and in some cases, could become hotspots for antimicrobial resistance.WATCH: ‘Nightmare bacteria’ spreading across U.S. (April 2018)

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