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Antibiotics In World's Rivers Exceed Safe Levels By Up To 300 Times

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Antibiotics concentration in many of the world's rivers have exceeded safe levels, including in some tributaries of the iconic River Thames. It's becoming a global problem, especially in countries in Asia and Africa.  ( Pixabay )

The antibiotics polluting the world's rivers are up to 300 times above the "safe" levels, according to the largest global study conducted.

Antibiotics In Rivers

Drugs get into rivers and other water bodies through human waste and leaks from treatment or manufacturing facilities.

Not only is it damaging to the environment, but microbial ecologist William Gaze of the University of Exeter told the Guardian that antibiotic pollution also plays a huge role in bacteria's increasing resistance to antibiotics.

In a new study by the University of York, researchers monitored 711 river sites in 72 countries to see just how polluted the world's water bodies really are. The team found the presence of antibiotics in 65 percent of the sites.

"Many scientists and policy makers now recognise the role of the natural environment in the antimicrobial resistance problem," Prof. Alistair Boxall, theme leader of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute, said in a statement. "Our data show that antibiotic contamination of rivers could be an important contributor."

A Global Problem Of Antibiotic Contamination

Depending on the antibiotic, the safe levels range from 20,000 to 32,000 nanograms per liter, according to the standards set by the AMR Industry Alliance. Findings of the new study revealed that many of the world's rivers-including some of the most iconic ones such as the Thames, which contained five antibiotics-exceed these safe levels by a significant margin.

Samples from Austria's Danube were found with seven different antibiotics, such as clarithromycin at nearly four times of its safe levels. It's the most contaminated site tested in Europe.

The largest percentage of excess is in Bangladesh, where the concentration of metronidazole in the water is 300 times greater than the safe levels. Metronidazole is a drug used for bacterial infections.

However, the most prevalent antibiotic of the bunch was trimethoprim, which was found in 307 of the 711 sites. Trimethoprim is commonly used for urinary tract infections.

The authors described the antibiotic presence in rivers a "global problem. Safe levels of antibiotics in the water are exceeded frequently in Asia and Africa, but Europe, North America, and South America also had sites of contamination.

Among all the countries that are monitored, the greatest degree by which the antibiotic contamination exceeded safe levels are in the following countries: Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan, and Nigeria.

"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," Boxall concluded.

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