Biodegradation and Inhibitory Effects of Antibiotics on Biological Wastewater Treatment Systems

  • Zeynep CeteciogluEmail author
  • Merve Atasoy
Part of the Methods in Pharmacology and Toxicology book series (MIPT)


Antibiotics are one of the most consumed drugs and have become new emerging pollutants in the environment as antibiotics lead to long-term adverse effects on the ecosystem. They are produced by bacteria to inhibit the growth of other bacteria in nature as a defense mechanism. Furthermore, after discovering their therapeutical features, synthetic production methods were developed. In general, antibiotics are widely used in human medicine, veterinary medicine, farming and aquaculture for the prevention and treatment of diseases. Approximately 90% of the consumed antibiotics are excreted via urinary or fecal pathways from the human body after partial, or no metabolism, and they are transferred to the domestic sewage plants or directly to the environment. Conventional biological treatment of domestic sewage provides very low—if any—reduction for the antibiotics, which usually by-pass treatment and accumulate in the receiving waters, sediments, plants, and animals. The concentration of these materials in domestic wastewaters and surface waters is observed in a range between 0.3 μg/L and 150 μg/L. However, pharmaceutical plants, hospitals, concentrated animal feeding operations, and aquaculture generate effluents having much higher antibiotics concentrations in the range 100–500 mg/L. Consequently, it is essential to gather information on the fate and effect of these compounds at high concentrations for setting the basis for related practical treatment schemes.

Inhibitory action of the antibiotics is experimentally evaluated in two different approaches: Short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) tests: Acute experiments involve a microbial community selected and sustained by the selected organic substrate in the system and not previously exposed to the inhibitor. In long-term experiments with continuous feeding of the inhibitor, the test may reflect, aside from changes in substrate removal and utilization, adaptation and/or resistance of the microbial community or even shifts in microbial composition in response to continuous exposure to the selected inhibitor. However, a full insight on the inhibitory action can only be acquired when the response of the microbial community is tested for both acute and chronic inhibition impacts.

In this chapter, the most commonly used antibiotic classes such as β-lactams, tetracycline, macrolides, sulfonamides, quinolones are examined. Their fate and transformation during wastewater treatment as well as their inhibitory and toxic effects on the microbial community are discussed by using various toxicity and inhibition tests.

Key words

Antibiotics Biodegradation Inhibition Toxicity Biodegradability Wastewater treatment 


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© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringKTH Royal Institute of TechnologyStockholmSweden

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