Study: World’s rivers are contaminated with antibiotics

The world’s rivers are widely contaminated with antibiotics, according to a new global study, the first of its kind.

Researchers from the University of York in the UK analyzed samples from rivers in 72 countries and found antibiotics were present in 65% of them.

Dangerous levels of contamination were most frequently found in Asia and Africa, the team said, with sites in Bangladesh, Kenya, Ghana, Pakistan and Nigeria exceeding safe levels by the greatest degree.

The worst case was found at a site in Bangladesh, where concentrations of the drug Metronidazole — which is used to treat bacterial infections, including skin and mouth infections — exceeded safe levels by up to 300 times.

Safe levels can range from 20,000 to 32,000 nanograms per liter (ng/l), depending on the antibiotic, according to new guidelines established by the AMR Industry Alliance, a coalition of biotech, diagnostics and pharmaceutical companies set up to provide sustainable solutions to curb antimicrobial resistance.

Researchers looked for 14 commonly used antibiotics in their samples. They found Trimethoprim — a drug primarily used to treat urinary tract infections — at 43% of the river sites tested, making it the most prevalent antibiotic found in the study.

The bacteria-fighting Ciprofloxacin most frequently exceeded safe levels, surpassing the safety threshold in 51 places, according to researchers.

The data was collected from 711 sites, and from some of the world’s best-known rivers, including the Chao Phraya, Danube, Mekong, Seine, Thames, Tiber and Tigris.

Researchers found high-risk sites were typically next to wastewater treatment plants, waste or sewage dumps and in some areas of political turmoil.

While safe limits were most frequently exceeded in the developing world, data from sites in Europe, North America and South America show antibiotic contamination is a “global problem,” according to the researchers.

John Wilkinson, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of York’s Department of Environment and Geography, who coordinated the monitoring work, said the “real important part of the work is beginning to answer the question of: ‘So what?’ Or more specifically: “Does this contamination pose a risk to health in humans or the environment?’ ”

A ‘global crisis’

Last month, the United Nations called resistance to antibiotics, antivirals, antifungals and antiprotozoals a “global crisis.”

Drug-resistant diseases cause at least 700,000 deaths globally a year, including 230,000 deaths from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis, according to a report by the United Nations’ Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance.

Without concerted global action, the authors of the UN report estimate that up to 10 million people a year may die from drug-resistant diseases by 2030.

Alistair Boxall, professor of environmental science at York, called the river study’s findings “eye opening and worrying,” saying they demonstrate that the antibiotic contamination of rivers could be an “important contributor” to antimicrobial resistance.

To counter that, Boxall said, it will be necessary to invest in infrastructure for waste and wastewater treatment, tighten regulations and clean up already contaminated sites.

“Solving the problem is going to be a mammoth challenge,” he said.

The researchers will present their findings at the annual meeting of the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry in Helsinki Monday and Tuesday.

After 1,095 days and more than 75,000 miles on the road, Mikah Meyer is home, having fulfilled his dream of visiting all 419 US national parks in a single, grueling journey.

Meyer, 33, set out three years ago on an ambitious road trip in honor of his late father, leaving behind his life in Washington, D.C., and taking up residence in a cargo van.

“Life is too short to delay your dreams,” Meyer said.

It’s a mantra he repeated to himself as he ventured solo across the United States.

Meyer claims to be the only person to have traveled to every US national park in a single journey. He was only 19 when his father, a Lutheran pastor, died of cancer. Days after the funeral, Meyer said he went on his first independent road trip as a way to grieve. He and his father had bonded over their many road trips together, Meyer said.

Van life on a budget

The three-year journey, while exciting, was far from luxurious. Even after saving up for the trip in his 20s, he still didn’t have enough cash by the time he was ready to begin. To stretch his limited funds, he slept in his van, which he outfitted with a bed and solar-powered fridge.

Van life was “not nearly as glamorous as what you see on social media,” he said. Much of his time was spent on logistics, and he relied on wifi from public libraries and fast food restaurants.

Not least among the hardships he faced on the road: loneliness. It’s been “very difficult on the psyche” to be away from family and friends for three years.

Honoring his father

During his trip, Meyer listened to stories about his father from his dad’s friends and colleagues. Some even reached out to Meyer to sing at their churches when he visited.

It was thanks to congregants in those churches who donated funds that Meyer could afford to continue.

“This trip has been a ministry in many ways,” Meyer said.

Meyer said he felt his father’s spirit especially during a visit to the Dinosaur National Monument at the Utah-Colorado border. In the park, Meyer encountered a wild Canadian goose that followed him around all day. “George the Goose” refused to leave Meyer’s side, even braving rapid rivers to stay close to him. Geese hold symbolic significance in Lutheranism, Meyer said.

A shifting goal post

Meyer documented his trip on Instagram, often posing with a gay pride flag in front of iconic American landscapes or beaming in a sunset selfie.

At each site, he went on tours and spent time camping, rafting, hiking or snorkeling.

During quiet moments, he wrote about each one, and he plans to eventually release a full ranking of all 419. There were only about 400 official national park sites when he started — that number grew to 419. He now jokes that the next time he makes a bold plan, he “won’t choose a movable goal post.”

A fitting end to the journey

Meyer rolled into Washington DC April 29, closing the loop on an epic journey three years to the minute after it began. His return coincided with the 14th anniversary of his father’s death.

For the next chapter, Meyer plans on moving back to Nebraska, where he is from, and said he wants to go on “many more” adventures that he hopes will continue to inspire people to live their dreams.

Looking back, he said he wishes his father could have come along, but he believes his dad “would be pretty proud.”

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.