Study finds excess antibiotics in water

By Cathy Wong Source:Global Times Published: 2014-5-8 23:48:02

High concentration of antibiotics and pharmaceutical ingredients in some Chinese water sources revealed by a scientific journal has once again ignited debates about the water safety in China. But water experts have assured that antibiotics are not yet a major source of the country's water pollution. 

An article in the latest issue of the Chinese Science Bulletin claimed that there were 68 types of antibiotics and 90 more non-antibiotic pharmaceutical ingredients found in the country's surface water, the Beijing News reported on Thursday.

According to the article, in the Pearl River and the Huangpu River, the frequency of the detection of antibiotics in the water reaches 100 percent. The amount of some antibiotics found in the water is even up to a few hundred nanograms per liter, while the amount in the developed countries is fewer than 20 nanograms per liter.

China produces 1,300 kinds of chemical drugs and cosmetic products every year, and the annual production of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products as Pollutants (PPCPs) reaches 33,000 tons, said the article. China also has the highest degree of overuse of antibiotics, which constitute 70 percent of the country's annual drug production.

The research was jointly carried out by the East China University of Science and Technology, Tongji University, and Tsinghua University.

An official at the Ministry of Environment Protection told the Beijing News that a certain amount of antibiotics are indeed found in the country's surface water, and attributed the source of pollution to the aquaculture industry as antibiotics are excessively used to boost the aquaculture production.

But water experts did not agree with the conclusion, and doubted the credibility of the report. "Antibiotics are not a commonly found pollutant in China's water. The amount found in the water for household consumption is still very low," Huang Jun, associate professor of environmental chemistry at Tsinghua University, told the Global Times.

The intake of antibiotics from drinking water only amounts to two to three pills every year, and will not affect human health, Huang said.

It is also normal for the Pearl River and the Huangpu River to have 100 percent concentration ratio of antibiotics in the water, as these two rivers are the main hub for fishery and aquafarming, said Dai Xingyi, a professor at the College of Environmental Science and Engineering at Fudan University.

Both Huang and Dai agreed the report has exaggerated the seriousness of antibiotics pollution. While assuring the water is still not contaminated with a massive presence of antibiotics, the experts did not rule out the possibility of sewage leakage that leads to pollution of drinking water.

 "But the possibility is still very low, as antibiotics will be degraded quickly and easily under sunshine and over time," Huang said.

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