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Danube Among Rivers Most Polluted with Antibiotics

Fanni Kaszás 2019.05.28.

According to a global study presented in Helsinki on Monday, two-thirds of the rivers tested in 72 countries contained ‘dangerous levels of antibiotics.’ The Danube was revealed to be the worst in terms of antibiotics pollution in Europe.

The study involved 72 countries and 711 sampling locations. Sixty-two percent of the rivers studied — including the Thames and Tigris — were found to be contaminated with antibiotics classified as critically important for the treatment of serious infections. The study revealed that a section of the river Danube in Austria contained seven different types of antibiotics, including clarithromycin used to treat pneumonia and bronchitis. The concentration of chemicals was almost four times higher than what’s considered safe.

The amount of pollution in the Danube is quite surprising given that only eight percent of the sites tested exceeded safe levels. The input of antibiotics primarily derives from inadequate wastewater treatment near rivers, the study says.

Alistair Boxall, an environmental scientist at the University of York who co-led the study, told The Guardian that “It’s quite scary and depressing. We could have large parts of the environment that have got antibiotics at levels high enough to affect resistance.” This means it’s likely that the high (and even low) concentration could be driving resistance, potentially transferring the genes to human pathogens.

The UN issued a warning about the global health emergency last month as the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria could kill 10 million people by 2050.

Does it pose a serious threat to the population?

While on M1 and Kossuth Radio’s program ‘Good Morning Hungary’ this morning, György Verő, a representative of WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), insisted that the antibiotic contamination of the Danube doesn’t pose a serious threat to the population, not even those bathing in the river.

“Chemical pollution is one of the most important indicators of the status of surface and groundwater,” said the project manager. He added that the antibiotic quantities detected in the Danube were very small and originated from sampling sites in Austria.

At the same time, the expert agreed with the scientists’ warning that the presence of antibiotics in water primarily affects microorganisms, causing resistance. In the long run, the spread of antimicrobial resistance could result in a variety of issues, affecting both humans and wildlife.