Antibiotics Threaten the Health of Aquatic Ecosystems and Contaminate our Global Water Supply

An estimated 20–40% of antibiotics are toxic to algae, without which these ecosystems begin to crumble.

Alexandra Piedoux
5 min readJun 27


Photo by Liz Harrell on Unsplash

Remember the last time you were routinely prescribed an antibiotic? Maybe it was a root canal gone awry. Or a painful urinary tract infection. Perhaps you contracted Strep throat. Who knows? You do, hopefully.

Bacterial infections are exceedingly common, known to manifest in the human microbiome in a plethora of ways. Ranging from mildly annoying to life-threateningly complicated, these illnesses are as diverse as the bacteria from which they originate.

Pneumonia, which is infamous for inflicting the immunocompromised, was once a fatal diagnosis, but now it is highly treatable with antibiotics. Of course, it can be fatal in certain vulnerable cohorts, but that is not atypical of respiratory illnesses.

Since the medical innovation of antibiotics, fatalities resulting from pneumonia have decreased dramatically. No doubt about it — antibiotics work.

Which is great news for humankind, from the perspective of treating diseases. But what happens to the penicillin after it works its way through your digestive tract, flushing out your entire microbial composition along the way?

Studies on environmental pollution in aquatic ecosystems, such as lakes and estuaries, are beginning to reveal the answer.

According to a study published in 2020, antibiotics now maintain a “pervasive existence in [these] ecosystems,” fueled by anthropogenic use.

By pervasive, they mean that these man-made drugs have infiltrated all parts of these aquatic habitats: surface water such as flowing streams and stagnant wetlands, groundwater that fills the Earth’s precious underground aquifers, and even seawater, meaning that traces of drugs have seeped into the oceans. It is utterly contaminated.

Equally alarming is the scientists’ finding that upwards of 70 different antibiotics were detected in Barcelona’s underground water supply. Depending on where you live, that statement might have afforded you a sigh of great relief. After all…



Alexandra Piedoux

Exploring science communication at the intersection of environment and mental health, dabbling in mindfulness ☀️ Instagram: @apiedoux 🌱