Antibiotics: An overview on the environmental occurrence, toxicity, degradation, and removal methods

Qiulian Yang, Yuan Gao, Jian Ke, Pau Loke Show, Yuhui Ge, Yanhua Liu, Ruixin Guo, Jianqiu Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

147 Scopus citations


Antibiotics, as antimicrobial drugs, have been widely applied as human and veterinary medicines. Recently, many antibiotics have been detected in the environments due to their mass production, widespread use, but a lack of adequate treatment processes. The environmental occurrence of antibiotics has received worldwide attention due to their potential harm to the ecosystem and human health. Research status of antibiotics in the environment field is presented by bibliometrics. Herein, we provided a comprehensive overview on the following important issues: (1) occurrence of antibiotics in different environmental compartments, such as wastewater, surface water, and soil; (2) toxicity of antibiotics toward non-target organisms, including aquatic and terrestrial organisms; (3) current treatment technologies for the degradation and removal of antibiotics, including adsorption, hydrolysis, photodegradation and oxidation, and biodegradation. It was found that macrolides, fluoroquinolones, tetracyclines, and sulfonamides were most frequently detected in the environment. Compared to surface and groundwaters, wastewater contained a high concentration of antibiotic residues. Both antibiotics and their metabolites exhibited toxicity to non-target organisms, especially aquatic organisms (e.g., algae and fish). Fluoroquinolones, tetracyclines, and sulfonamides can be removed through abiotic process, such as adsorption, photodegradation, and oxidation. Fluoroquinolones and sulfonamides can directly undergo biodegradation. Further studies on the chronic effects of antibiotics at environmentally relevant concentrations on the ecosystem were urgently needed to fully understand the hazards of antibiotics and help the government to establish the permissible limits. Biodegradation is a promising technology; it has numerous advantages such as cost-effectiveness and environmental friendliness.

Original languageBritish English
Pages (from-to)7376-7416
Number of pages41
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Antibiotics
  • biodegradation
  • environmental occurrence
  • removal method
  • toxicity assessment


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