Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

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Veterinary Medicines in the Environment

Potential pathways for veterinary medicines in soil and water
Potential pathways for veterinary medicines in soil and water.

A Toxic Substances Hydrology Program scientist and his European colleagues have summarized the state of knowledge about veterinary medicines in the environment. Recently, scientist have detected low levels of veterinary medicines in soils, surface waters, and ground waters worldwide. Although the environmental occurrence and associated impacts of some compounds such as selected antibacterial compounds have been investigated, the impacts of many other substances found in the environment are not well understood. As a result, questions have arisen about the effects of veterinary medicines on organisms in the environment and on human health.

Questions explored by the scientists in their feature article in the August 1, 2003 issue of the journal Environmental Science and Technology (a publication of the American Chemical Society) include:

  • "What other veterinary medicines might be in the environment, and should we be concerned about these?"
  • "How do these substances behave in the environment, and do they differ from other chemical classes (e.g., pesticides)?"
  • "What are the effects of long-term, low-level exposure to these medicines?"
  • "Do their degradation products present environmental risks?"
  • "What subtle human and environmental effects may be elicited by these drugs?"
  • "Do medicines in the environment play a role in antibacterial resistance?"
  • "How do these substances interact in the environment with other veterinary medicines and other contaminants?"

The authors use recent data and information to answer some of these questions. Although many other questions remain unanswered, this new review article highlights key researchers and their current attempts to find answers in this rapidly evolving field of environmental chemistry. In addition, major gaps in current knowledge are explained that point to the need for additional research.


Boxall, A.B.A., Kolpin, D.W., Halling-Sorensen, B., and Tolls, J., 2003, Are veterinary medicines causing environmental risks?: Environmental Science and Technology, v. 37, no. 15, p. 286A-294A, doi:10.1021/es032519b.

More Information

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Recent Reports on Antibiotics from the Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

Battaglin, W.A., Thurman, E.M., Kolpin, D.W., Scribner, E.A., Sandstrom, M.W., and Kuivila, K.M., 2003, Work plan for determining the occurrence of glyphosate, its transformation product AMPA, other herbicide compounds, and antibiotics in midwestern United States streams, 2002: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 03-69, 18 p.

Scribner, E.A., Battaglin, W.A., Dietze, J.E., and Thurman, E.M., 2003, Reconnaissance data for glyphosate, other selected herbicides, their degradation products, and antibiotics in 51 streams in nine Midwestern States, 2002: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 03-217, 101 p.

Adams, C., Wang, Y., Loftin, K., and Meyer, M.T., 2002, Removal of antibiotics from surface and distilled water in conventional water treatment processes: Journal of Environmental Engineering, v. 128, no. 3, p. 253-260, doi:10.1061/(ASCE)0733-9372(2002)128:3(253).

Campagnolo, E.R., Johnson, K.R., Karpati, A., Rubing, C.S., Kolpin, D.W., Meyer, M.T., Esteban, J.E., Currier, R.W., Smith, K., Thu, K.M., and McGeehin, M., 2002, Antimicrobial residues in animal waste and water resources proximal to large-scale swine and poultry feeding operations: The Science of the Total Environment, v. 299, no. 1-3, p. 89-95, doi:10.1016/S0048-9697(02)00233-4.

Thurman, E.M., Dietze, J.E., and Scribner, E.A., 2002, Occurrence of antibiotics in water from fish hatcheries: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 120-02, 4 p.

Lindsey, M.E., Meyer, M.T., and Thurman, E.M., 2001, Analysis of trace levels of sulfonamide and tetracycline antimicrobials in groundwater and surface water using solid-phase extraction and liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry: Analytical Chemistry, v. 73, no. 19, p. 4640-4646, doi:10.1021/ac010514w.

Meyer, M.T., Bumgarner, J.E., Varns, J.L., Daughtridge, J.V., Thurman, E.M., and Hostetler, K.A., 2000, Use of radioimmunoassay as a screen for antibiotics in confined animal feeding operations and confirmation by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry: The Science of the Total Environment, v. 248, no. 2-3, p. 181-187, doi:10.1016/S0048-9697(99)00541-0.

Meyer, M.T., Bumgarner, J.E., Thurman, E.M., Hostetler, K.A., and Daughtridge, J.V., 1999, A radioimmunoassay method to screen for antibiotics in liquid waste at confined livestock operations, with confirmation by liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry, in Morganwalp, D.W., and Buxton, H.T., eds., U.S. Geological Survey Toxic Substances Hydrology Program--Proceedings of the Technical Meeting, Charleston, South Carolina, March 8-12, 1999--Volume 2 of 3--Contamination of Hydrologic Systems and Related Ecosystems: U.S. Geological Survey Water-Resources Investigations Report 99-4018B, p. 465-470.


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