Distribution, fate and risk assessment of antibiotics in sewage treatment plants in Hong Kong, South China

H. W. LEUNG, T. B. MINH, M. B. MURPHY, Chung Wah James LAM, M. K. SO, Michael MARTIN, Paul K.S. LAM, B. J. RICHARDSON

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Occurrence, removal, consumption and environmental risks of sixteen antibiotics were investigated in several sewage treatment plants (STPs) featuring different treatment levels in Hong Kong, China. Cefalexin, ofloxacin and erythromycin-H₂O were predominant with concentrations of 1020–5640, 142–7900 and 243–4740 ng/L in influent, respectively; their mass loads were comparable to levels reported in urban regions in China and were at the high end of the range reported for western countries. The target antibiotics behaved differently depending on the treatment level employed at the STPs and relatively higher removal efficiencies (> 70%) were observed for cefalexin, cefotaxime, amoxicillin, sulfamethoxazole and chloramphenicol during secondary treatment. ß-lactams were especially susceptible to removal via the activated sludge process while macrolides were recalcitrant (< 20%) in the dissolved phase. Two fluoroquinolones, ofloxacin (4%) and norfloxacin (52%), differed greatly in their removal efficiencies, probably because of disparities in their pKₐ values which resulted in different sorption behaviour in sludge. Overall antibiotic consumption in Hong Kong was back-calculated based on influent mass flows and compared with available prescription and usage data. This model was verified by a good approximation of 82% and 141% to the predicted consumption of total ofloxacin, but a less accurate estimate was obtained for erythromycin usage. Risk assessment indicated that algae are susceptible to the environmental concentrations of amoxicillin as well as the mixture of the nine detected antibiotics in receiving surface waters. Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
JournalEnvironment International
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2012



Leung, H. W., Minh, T. B., Murphy, M. B., Lam, J. C. W., So, M. K., Martin, M., . . . Richardson, B. J. (2012). Distribution, fate and risk assessment of antibiotics in sewage treatment plants in Hong Kong, South China. Environment International, 42, 1-9. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2011.03.004


  • Hong Kong
  • Antibiotics
  • Sewage treatment plants
  • Consumption
  • Risk assessment
  • Removal efficiency