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Mar Pollut Bull. 2005;51(1-4):218-23. Epub 2004 Nov 24.

Ecosystem response to antibiotics entering the aquatic environment.

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National Research Centre for Environmental Toxicology, University of Queensland, 39, Kessels Road, Coopers Plains, Brisbane 4108, QLD, Australia.


Awareness of antibiotics in wastewaters and aquatic ecosystems is growing as investigations into alternate pollutants increase and analytical techniques for detecting these chemicals improve. The presence of three antibiotics (ciprofloxacin, norfloxacin and cephalexin) was evaluated in both sewage effluent and environmental waters downstream from a sewage discharge. Bacteria cultured from the sewage bioreactor and receiving waters were tested for resistance against six antibiotics (ciprofloxacin, tetracycline, ampicillin, trimethoprim, erythromycin and trimethoprim/sulphamethoxazole) and effects of short term exposure (24 h) to antibiotics on bacterial denitrification rates were examined. Antibiotics were detected entering the sewage treatment plant with varying levels of removal during the treatment process. Antibiotics were also detected in effluent entering receiving waters and detectable 500 m from the source. Among the bacteria cultured from the sewage bioreactor, resistance was displayed against all six antibiotics tested and bacteria cultured from receiving waters were resistant against two of the antibiotics tested. Rates of denitrification were observed to decrease in response to some antibiotics and not to others, though this was only observed at concentrations exceeding those likely to be found in the environment. Findings from this preliminary research have indicated that antibiotics are entering our aquatic systems and pose a potential threat to ecosystem function and potentially human health.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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