Science of The Total Environment

Volume 624, 15 May 2018, Pages 145-152
Science of The Total Environment

Occurrence of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes in soils from wastewater irrigation areas in the Pearl River Delta region, southern China


The concentration and abundance of antibiotics and ARGs in irrigation water and soils were investigated.

Long-term wastewater irrigation increased the abundance of ARGs in soil.

Antibiotic concentrations had a positive correlation with the abundances of ARGs.

Antibiotic concentrations and abundances of ARGs decreased with increasing soil depth.


The occurrence and distribution of tetracycline (TC) and sulfamethazine (SMZ), and the corresponding antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) were investigated in six agricultural sites in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) region in southern China. Irrigation water and irrigated soils at two different depths (0–10 and 10–20 cm) were analyzed. The total concentrations of TC and SMZ in irrigation water ranged from 69.3 to 234 ng/L and from 4.00 to 58.2 ng/L, respectively, while the total concentrations of TC and SMZ in irrigated soils ranged from 5.00 to 21.9 μg/kg and from 1.30 to 4.20 μg/kg, respectively. After long-term irrigation with domestic and fishpond wastewater in the field, the residual TC and SMZ and their corresponding ARGs in soils were significantly higher in fishpond-irrigated soils (Dongguan and Shenzhen) than in domestic wastewater-irrigated soils (Foshan, Guangzhou, Huizhou and Zhongshan). The concentrations of antibiotics and their ARGs were significantly higher in irrigation water than in irrigated soils, which indicated that wastewater was the primary source of antibiotics in the soil environments. The domestic and fishpond wastewater were important repositories of antibiotics and their ARGs, which require effective treatment before their discharge into the environment. Other factors such as soil physicochemical properties, manure application, irrigation water sources and cropping patterns also affect the antibiotic concentrations and ARG abundances. The residual antibiotic concentrations statistically correlated with the corresponding ARGs in irrigation water and irrigated soils, both of which decreased with increasing soil depth, indicating that the concentration of antibiotics in the environment exerted a selection pressure on the microorganisms in the environment.


Antibiotic resistance genes
Pearl River Delta

Present Address: Sino-Forest Applied Research Centre for Pearl River Delta Environment and Department of Biology, Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong SAR, China.