World's rivers contaminated with high level of antibiotics, study finds

Antibiotics found in rivers at up to 300 times over ‘safe’ levels

Antibiotics found in rivers at up to 300 times over ‘safe’ levels

Researchers found "dangerous levels" of the drugs, including those used to treat skin and urinary tract infections, throughout the world's waterways.

The researchers found that Ghana, Bangladesh, Kenya, Nigeria and Pastikan were home to the most contaminated rivers.

The fear of scientists is that antibiotics in rivers will cause bacteria to develop resistance meaning they can no longer be used in medicines for humans.

The antibiotics enter rivers and soil via human and animal waste, as well as leaks from drug manufacturing sources and wastewater treatment plants.

Metronidazole, which is used to treat bacterial infections including skin and mouth infections, exceeded safe levels by the biggest margin, with concentrations at one site in Bangladesh 300 times greater than the "safe" level.

They searched for 14 common antibiotics in 72 countries.

Rivers around the world are contaminated with unsafe levels of antibiotics, according to a major new study.

The research, presented at a conference in Helsinki on May 27, revealed 111 of the sites contained levels of antibiotics that exceeded safe levels, with the worst cases more than 300 times over the safe limit, The Guardian reported.

The presence of antibiotics in our natural environment has been linked to the rise in drug-resistant bacteria, which the United Nations warns is a global health emergency that stands to kill 10 million people by 2050.

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Professor Alistair Boxall, Theme Leader of the York Environmental Sustainability Institute, is quoted as saying describing the results as "quite eye-opening and worrying, demonstrating the widespread contamination of river systems around the world with antibiotic compounds".

Researchers recorded a concentration of 233 nanograms per litre (ng/l), whereas in Bangladesh the concentration was 170 times higher than this.

For a study led by the University of York, 92 testing kits were dispatched to researchers around the world who were asked to take samples along their local river system.

The "safe" level, the team used, was established by the AMR Industry Alliance.

"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.

"We've found that rivers - particularly in Africa and Asia - have antibiotics that will probably select for resistance and could be contributing to the antimicrobial crisis". The studies have been done only on a handful of antibiotics. We know very little about the scale of problem globally.

'Our study helps fill this key knowledge gap with data being generated for countries that had never been monitored before'.

Boxall says the most contaminated sites tend to be close to wastewater treatment works, where sewage gets treated and goes out into rivers, or near dumping grounds and landfill sites.

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

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