• Industrial pollution;
  • Fluoroquinolones;
  • Antibiotic resistance;
  • India


Low levels of pharmaceuticals are detected in surface, ground, and drinking water worldwide. Usage and incorrect disposal have been considered the major environmental sources of these microcontaminants. Recent publications, however, suggest that wastewater from drug production can potentially be a source of much higher concentrations in certain locations. The present study investigated the environmental fate of active pharmaceutical ingredients in a major production area for the global bulk drug market. Water samples were taken from a common effluent treatment plant near Hyderabad, India, which receives process water from approximately 90 bulk drug manufacturers. Surface water was analyzed from the recipient stream and from two lakes that are not contaminated by the treatment plant. Water samples were also taken from wells in six nearby villages. The samples were analyzed for the presence of 12 pharmaceuticals with liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry. All wells were determined to be contaminated with drugs. Ciprofloxacin, enoxacin, cetirizine, terbinafine, and citalopram were detected at more than 1 μg/L in several wells. Very high concentrations of ciprofloxacin (14 mg/L) and cetirizine (2.1 mg/L) were found in the effluent of the treatment plant, together with high concentrations of seven additional pharmaceuticals. Very high concentrations of ciprofloxacin (up to 6.5 mg/L), cetirizine (up to 1.2 mg/L), norfloxacin (up to 0.52 mg/L), and enoxacin (up to 0.16 mg/L) were also detected in the two lakes, which clearly shows that the investigated area has additional environmental sources of insufficiently treated industrial waste. Thus, insufficient wastewater management in one of the world's largest centers for bulk drug production leads to unprecedented drug contamination of surface, ground, and drinking water. This raises serious concerns regarding the development of antibiotic resistance, and it creates a major challenge for producers and regulatory agencies to improve the situation.