Antibiotic Contamination of Water: What Are The Long Term Effects On Us?

Huge amounts of antibiotics are consumed every year.  In 1954, two million pounds of antibiotics were produced in the US. Today, that figure is more than 50 million [1]. One statistic released by the FDA suggests that ~30 million pounds of antibiotics are used by livestock for growth promotion and prevention (prophylaxis) [2].

This massive usage of antibiotics is having a toll on the environment as residual antibiotics from human and animal use can enter the environment in many ways. The 3 primary ways are [3]:

1)      Wastewater effluent discharge

2)      Human/animal waste run off from land

3)      Leaching

As a result of these sorts of processes, a large variety of antibiotics have been detected in wastewater effluents and natural waters. Microscopic elements of antibiotics are being transported to reservoirs supplying source water to drinking water treatment plants [3]. Drinking water treatment plants are unable to remove all the antibiotics and so our drinking water contains trace amounts of a variety of antibiotics.  The question has yet to be answered but I am certain it is not favourable: What is the long term impact on human and even animal health of chronic low-level antibiotic exposure in our drinking water? Can this be a factor contributing to the higher cancer incident rates that we are observing? Finally: how do we remove trace amounts of a large number of antibiotics from being in our drinking water?


Image via Creative Commons

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