Environmental Science and Pollution Research

, Volume 22, Issue 22, pp 18017–18030 | Cite as

Antibiotics and sweeteners in the aquatic environment: biodegradability, formation of phototransformation products, and in vitro toxicity

  • Marlies Bergheim
  • Richard Gminski
  • Bernd Spangenberg
  • Malgorzata Debiak
  • Alexander Bürkle
  • Volker Mersch-Sundermann
  • Klaus Kümmerer
  • Reto Gieré
Research Article


In the present study, in vitro toxicity as well as biopersistence and photopersistence of four artificial sweeteners (acesulfame, cyclamate, saccharine, and sucralose) and five antibiotics (levofloxacin, lincomycin, linezolid, marbofloxacin, and sarafloxacin) and of their phototransformation products (PTPs) were investigated. Furthermore, antibiotic activity was evaluated after UV irradiation and after exposure to inocula of a sewage treatment plant. The study reveals that most of the tested compounds and their PTPs were neither readily nor inherently biodegradable in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)-biodegradability tests. The study further demonstrates that PTPs are formed upon irradiation with an Hg lamp (UV light) and, to a lesser extent, upon irradiation with a Xe lamp (mimics sunlight). Comparing the nonirradiated with the corresponding irradiated solutions, a higher chronic toxicity against bacteria was found for the irradiated solutions of linezolid. Neither cytotoxicity nor genotoxicity was found in human cervical (HeLa) and liver (Hep-G2) cells for any of the investigated compounds or their PTPs. Antimicrobial activity of the tested fluoroquinolones was reduced after UV treatment, but it was not reduced after a 28-day exposure to inocula of a sewage treatment plant. This comparative study shows that PTPs can be formed as a result of UV treatment. The study further demonstrated that UV irradiation can be effective in reducing the antimicrobial activity of antibiotics, and consequently may help to reduce antimicrobial resistance in wastewaters. Nevertheless, the study also highlights that some PTPs may exhibit a higher ecotoxicity than the respective parent compounds. Consequently, UV treatment does not transform all micropollutants into harmless compounds and may not be a large-scale effluent treatment option.


Photodegradation Irradiation UV Micropollutants Vibrio fischeri Hep-G2 cells HeLa cells 



Marlies Bergheim wishes to thank the German Environment Foundation (DBU), Stiftung Viamedica (Director: Prof. Daschner), the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), and the Vereinte Studienstiftung of the University of Freiburg for providing financial support through scholarships. We are grateful to two anonymous reviewers whose comments and suggestions helped improving this paper.

Supplementary material

11356_2015_4831_MOESM1_ESM.ppt (536 kb)
Fig. 1S Total ion chromatograms (TICs), extracted ion chromatograms (EICs) (m/z 338, m/z 267, m/z 289, m/z 294, m/z 316, m/z 372, m/z 350) and UV spectra (275 nm) of linezolid from test samples at 0 min, 4 min and 128 min irradiation with a Hg lamp (left) and a Xe lamp (right) (PPT 536 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marlies Bergheim
    • 1
    • 2
  • Richard Gminski
    • 1
  • Bernd Spangenberg
    • 3
  • Malgorzata Debiak
    • 4
  • Alexander Bürkle
    • 4
  • Volker Mersch-Sundermann
    • 1
  • Klaus Kümmerer
    • 1
    • 5
  • Reto Gieré
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Section of ToxicologyUniversity Medical Center FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Institute of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  3. 3.Process Engineering and Environmental TechnologiesUniversity of Applied SciencesOffenburgGermany
  4. 4.Molecular Toxicology Group, Department of BiologyUniversity of KonstanzKonstanzGermany
  5. 5.Institute of Sustainable and Environmental ChemistryLeuphana University LüneburgLueneburgGermany
  6. 6.Department of Earth and Environmental ScienceUniversity of PennsylvaniaPhiladelphiaUSA

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