Oxidation of Antibiotics in Wastewater: Identifying Products and Impacts on Antibacterial Activity

EPA Grant Number: FP917136
Title: Oxidation of Antibiotics in Wastewater: Identifying Products and Impacts on Antibacterial Activity
Investigators: Keen, Volha S
Institution: University of Colorado at Boulder
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 31, 2010 through August 30, 2013
Project Amount: $111,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2010) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Pesticides and Toxic Substances , Academic Fellowships


The increasing use of pharmaceuticals in our society has resulted in the scientific community recognizing these drugs as an emerging environmental contaminant. Among them, antibiotics are of special importance because they are used in large quantities and have been routinely detected in many waterways. Antibiotics have been implicated as one of the causes for the rise of pathogen resistance to antibacterial compounds. Wastewater treatment plant effluents are a major conveyor of human antibiotics into the environment. The project’s goal is to evaluate the application of ultraviolet-based advanced oxidation as an advanced wastewater treatment method for its efficiency in degrading antibiotics such that they are inactive in the environment, helping to prevent microorganisms from developing widespread resistance to existing drugs.


Human antibiotics are often found in waterways as a result of the improper disposal of drugs. The presence of antibiotics in the environment is undesirable because it can lead to the development of antibiotic resistant strains of human pathogens and upset the ecological balance of the natural environment. Most human pharmaceuticals enter water sources through wastewater treatment plant effluent. This project will focus on advanced wastewater treatment technologies that can degrade antibiotics.


Lab grade water and wastewater will be spiked with representatives of four major groups of human antibiotics. The samples will be subjected to bench scale advanced oxidation treatment similar to the full scale treatment used at drinking water and water reuse treatment plants in the United States. The treated samples will be evaluated using state of the art liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry methods to identify the loss of parent compound and generation of degradation products. The samples also will be subjected to bacterial inhibition assays to assess their antibacterial activity in parallel.

Expected Results:

It is hypothesized that advanced oxidation can be applied effectively and in an economically responsible manner for the removal of the antibacterial activity of antibiotics. Ultimately, this study will develop a set of recommendations for the application of advanced oxidation processes to wastewater treatment. Effective removal of antibacterial activity of antibiotics entering the environment can prevent the rise of widespread antibiotic resistance of human pathogens, which is a growing problem world-wide.

Potential to Further Environmental/Human Health Protection:

This study intends to develop process application guidelines that will aid in the design of advanced wastewater treatment systems for removal of antibacterial activity of antibiotics. If regulation of specific antibiotics contaminating our waterways is enacted in the future, this study will provide information on the use of advanced oxidation processes to destroy antibiotic activity. Removal of the activity of the antibiotics entering the environment is essential for preventing resistance among human pathogens to the currently available classes of antibacterial drugs.

Supplemental Keywords:

advanced oxidation, antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, antibacterial resistance, wastewater treatment,

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2011
  • 2012
  • Final