Presence and fate of veterinary antibiotics in age-dated groundwater in areas with intensive livestock farming

Tano Kivits, Hans Peter Broers, Henry Beeltje, Mariëlle van Vliet, Jasper Griffioen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Abstract The combination of emerging antibiotic resistance and lack of discovery of new antibiotic classes poses a threat to future human welfare. Antibiotics are administered to livestock at a large scale and these may enter the environment by the spreading of manure on agricultural fields. They may leach to groundwater, especially in the Netherlands which has some of the most intensive livestock farming and corresponding excessive manure spreading in the world. This study investigates the presence of antibiotics in groundwater in two regions with the most intensive livestock farming in the Netherlands. If so, the hydrochemical conditions were further elaborated. Ten multi-level wells with in total 46 filters were sampled, focusing on relatively young, previously age-dated groundwater below agricultural fields. Twenty-two antibiotics were analyzed belonging to the following antibiotic groups: tetracyclines, sulfonamides, trimethoprims, β-lactams, macrolides, lincosamides, quinolones, nitrofurans and chloramphenicol. The samples were analyzed for these antibiotics by LC-MS/MS ESI-POS/NEG (MRM) preceded by solid phase extraction which resulted in importantly low detection limits. Six antibiotics were found above detection limits in 31 filters in seven wells: sulfamethazine, sulfamethoxazole, lincomycin, chloramphenicol, ciprofloxacin, and sulfadiazine. The concentrations range from 0.3 to 18 ng L−1. Sulfonamides were detected at all measured depths down to 23 meters below surface level with apparent groundwater ages up to 40 years old. No antibiotics were detected below the nitrate/iron redox cline, which suggests that the antibiotics might undergo degradation or attenuation under nitrate-reducing redox conditions. This study provides proof that antibiotics are present in groundwater below agricultural areas in the Netherlands due to the spreading of animal manure.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)988-998
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Antibiotics
  • Intensive agriculture
  • Groundwater age
  • Redox
  • Sulfonamides


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