Bangladesh’s Water Teeming With Drugs, Chemicals, Study Says

Pollution due to industrial effluents has become an area of growing environmental concern

Water sampling data suggests the canals, lakes, ponds, rivers and surface waters of Bangladesh host alarmingly high levels of toxic chemicals, antibiotics and other drugs.

The proliferation of antibiotics in the environment has been linked with the prevalence of antibiotic-resistance among disease-causing microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses and parasites.

In Bangladesh, there is little to no regulation of antimicrobial drug use, and large amounts of antibiotics are used in healthcare and agricultural production. As well, the lack of quality wastewater management makes Bangladesh’s water especially vulnerable to spikes in antibiotic residues. For these reasons, the country is specially vulnerable to the emergence and spread of anti-microbial resistance.

According to the new water sampling survey, published Friday in the journal Science of the Total Environment, scientists measured large concentrations of a variety of drugs in both urban and rural surface waters, including amoxicillin, clindamycin, lincomycin, linezolid, metronidazole, moxifloxacin, nalidixic acid and sulfapyridine.

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Water samples were collected during spring 2019 from ponds, canals, lakes and rivers, as well as from surface waters near hand pumps, submersible pumps and wastewater treatment plants.

After being released from hospital wastewater outlet pipes and making their way through wastewater treatment plants, antibiotic residues can leach into myriad natural environs.

But antibiotics aren’t the only drugs that inspire resistance. Research suggests the anti-depressant fluoxetine can trigger the development of different forms of antibiotic resistance among E. coli strains.

“In addition, medicinal and agricultural antifungal compounds were frequently found in Bangladeshi surface waters,” researchers wrote in their paper. “This later finding — the near ubiquity of antifungal agents in environmental samples — is of particular concern, as it may be contributing to the alarming rise of multi-drug resistant fungal disease recently seen in humans throughout the world.”