Occurrence and elimination of antibiotics at four sewage treatment plants in the Pearl River Delta (PRD), South China

Weihai Xu, Gan Zhang, Xiangdong Li, Shichun Zou, Ping Li, Zhaohui Hu, Jun Li

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

562 Citations (Scopus)


In this paper, the occurrence and elimination of eight selected antibiotics mainly for human use, including chloramphenicol, fluoroquinolone, sulfonamide and macrolide groups, were investigated at four sewage treatment plants (STPs) in the Pearl River Delta (PRD), South China. The most frequently detected antibiotics in the present study were ofloxacin, norfloxacin, roxithromycin, erythromycin-H2O (the main degradation product of erythromycin) and sulfamethoxazole. The concentrations of these compounds in raw influents and final effluents at the four STPs ranged from 10 to 1978 ng L-1and from 9 to 2054 ng L-1, respectively. The other analytes were detected only in a few samples from the four STPs. Antibiotics could not be eliminated completely at the four STPs, with the highest elimination efficiency reaching to 81%. Analysis of the dissolved daily mass flow showed that fluoroquinolones were mostly eliminated from the sewage, and high concentrations of these compounds were found in secondary sludge. Therefore, it can be concluded that the observed elimination of fluoroquinolones in the STPs was due to their sorption to the sludge, but not biodegradation. Macrolides, especially erythromycin-H2O, were stable in sewage during the treatment process, and in fact even higher concentrations were found in the final effluents than in the raw sewages. Sulfamethoxazole was also found in raw influent and final effluent, indicating that it could withstand different treatment processes in the STPs. Remarkable differences in the daily environmental loads (the sum of the amounts in the final effluent and sludge) of the five most frequently detected antibiotic compounds were found in the range of 0.5-828 g at the four STPs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4526-4534
Number of pages9
JournalWater Research
Issue number19
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2007


  • Antibiotics
  • Effluent
  • Influent
  • Pearl River Delta (PRD)
  • Sludge
  • South China
  • Wastewater

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecological Modelling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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