Occurrence and distribution of antibiotics in surface water

Jing LIU, Wenjing DENG, Guang-Guo YING, Po Keung Eric TSANG, Hua-Chang Hong

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8 Citations (Scopus)


The concentrations, distribution, and ecological risks of 24 typical antibiotics in Hong Kong rivers and seawater were investigated using high-performance liquid chromatography coupled with electrospray ionization tandem mass spectrometry (UHPLC-EI-MS/MS). The results showed that the select antibiotics were widely distributed in the study area. Among the target antibiotics, the detection rate of tetracyclines (TCs) was 100%, which indicated the widespread use of TCs in Hong Kong. The detection rates of sulfonamides (SAs) (57.1–100%), fluoroquinolones (FQs) (78.6–100%), roxithromycin (RTM) (50%) and novobiocin (NOV) (50%) were all above 50%. Compared with river water (7.9–114.26 ng/L, medium: 27.7 ng/L), concentrations of the most antibiotics in seawater (9.5–32.0 ng/L, medium: 13.3 ng/L) were lower; seawater concentrations were similar to those reported from other coastal cities, such as Guangzhou and Zhuhai in China, which implied that the source of marine antibiotic pollution may be the nearby rivers, and the vastness of the ocean causes environmental dilution of antibiotics. According to the ratio of the measured environmental concentration (MEC) to the predicted no-effect concentration (PNEC), ofloxacin (OFX) (average risk quotient: 1.94E–01) and ciprofloxacin (CFX) (average risk quotient: 3.53E–01) posed medium to high ecological risk in most places, whereas other antibiotics posed lower risk. In Yuen Long, where there were many livestock farms nearby, the detected concentration of antibiotics was higher, indicating that livestock wastewater may be the major reason for the increase in antibiotic levels in this area. In general, the detected concentration of antibiotics in Hong Kong was lower than that in the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and coastal areas of China, but the long-term existence of low concentrations of antibiotics also poses great risks. According to the risk assessment, Hong Kong should pay more attention to the use of FQs (e.g., OFX and CFX) in the future. Copyright © 2022 The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1111-1119
Issue number7
Early online date16 Jul 2022
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


Liu, J., Deng, W.-J., Ying, G.-G., Tsang, E. P. K., & Hong, H.-C. (2022). Occurrence and distribution of antibiotics in surface water. Ecotoxicology, 31(7), 1111-1119. doi: 10.1007/s10646-022-02567-x


  • Antibiotics
  • Ecological risk
  • Aquatic environment


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