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Antimicrobial pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment - occurrence and environmental implications

The environmental occurrence of antimicrobial pharmaceuticals and antibiotic resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistant genes has become a global phenomenon and a multifaceted threat. Integrated actions of many parties are needed to prevent further aggravation of the problem. Well-directed actions require clear understanding of the problem, which can be ensured by frequent revaluation of the existing knowledge and disseminating it among relevant audiences. 

The goal of this review paper is to discuss the occurrence and abundance of antimicrobial pharmaceuticals in the aquatic environment in context of adverse effects caused directly by these substances and the threat associated with the antibiotics resistance phenomenon. Several classes of antimicrobial pharmaceuticals (aminoglycosides, β-lactams, glycopeptides, macrolides, fluoroquinolones, sulfonamides and trimethoprim, tetracyclines) have been selected to illustrate their sources, environmental abundance, degradation routes (transformation products) and environmental implications including their ecotoxic effect and the spread of antibiotic resistance within the compartments of the aquatic environment and wastewater treatment plants. Wastewater treatment plants are indeed the main source responsible for the prevalence of these factors in the aquatic environment, since predominantly the plants have not been designed to retain antimicrobial pharmaceuticals. In order to limit the prevalence of these impurities into the environment, better source control is recommended as well as the establishment of stricter environmental quality standards. Counteracting all the above-mentioned threats requires to undertake integrated activities based on cooperation of professionals and scientists from various fields of science or industry, such as environmental sciences, medicine, veterinary, pharmacology, chemical engineering and others.