Antibiotics are vital in the treatment of bacterial infectious diseases but when released into the environment they may impact non-target organisms that perform vital ecosystem services and enhance antimicrobial resistance development with significant consequences for human health. We evaluate whether the current environmental risk assessment regulatory guidance is protective of antibiotic impacts on the environment, protective of antimicrobial resistance, and propose science-based protection goals for antibiotic manufacturing discharges. A review and meta-analysis was conducted of aquatic ecotoxicity data for antibiotics and for minimum selective concentration data derived from clinically relevant bacteria. Relative species sensitivity was investigated applying general linear models, and predicted no effect concentrations were generated for toxicity to aquatic organisms and compared with predicted no effect concentrations for resistance development. Prokaryotes were most sensitive to antibiotics but the range of sensitivities spanned up to several orders of magnitude. We show reliance on one species of (cyano)bacteria and the ‘activated sludge respiration inhibition test’ is not sufficient to set protection levels for the environment. Individually, neither traditional aquatic predicted no effect concentrations nor predicted no effect concentrations suggested to safeguard for antimicrobial resistance, protect against environmental or human health effects (via antimicrobial resistance development). Including data from clinically relevant bacteria and also more species of environmentally relevant bacteria in the regulatory framework would help in defining safe discharge concentrations for antibiotics for patient use and manufacturing that would protect environmental and human health. It would also support ending unnecessary testing on metazoan species.
Le Page, G., Gunnarsson, L., Snape, J., & Tyler, C. R. (2017, December 1). Integrating human and environmental health in antibiotic risk assessment: A critical analysis of protection goals, species sensitivity and antimicrobial resistance. Environment International. Elsevier Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2017.09.013