Biodegradation of trace sulfonamide antibiotics accelerated by substrates across oxic to anoxic conditions during column infiltration experiments

Yunjie Ma, Meng Ma, Alejandro Palomo, Yuqin Sun, Jakub J. Modrzynski, Jens Aamand, Yan Zheng

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Frequent occurrence of trace organic contaminants in aquatic environments, such as sulfonamide antibiotics in rivers receiving reclaimed water, is concerning. Natural attenuation by soil and sediment is increasingly relied upon. In the case of riverbank filtration for water purification, the reliability of antibiotic attenuation has been called into question due to incomplete understanding of their degradation processes. This study investigated influence of substrates and redox evolution along infiltration path on biotransformation of sulfonamides. Eight sand columns (length: 28 cm) with a riverbed sediment layer at 3–8 cm were fed by groundwater-sourced tap water spiked with 1 μg/L of sulfadiazine (SDZ), sulfamethazine (SMZ), and sulfamethoxazole (SMX) each, with or without amendments of dissolved organic carbon (5 mg-C/L of 1:1 yeast and humics) or ammonium (5 mg-N/L). Two flow rates were tested over 120 days (0.5 mL/min and 0.1 mL/min). Iron-reducing conditions persisted in all columns for 27 days during the initial high flow period due to respiration of sediment organics, evolving to less reducing conditions until the subsequent low flow period to resume more reducing conditions. With surplus substrates, the spatial and temporal patterns of redox conditions differentiated among columns. The removal of SDZ and SMZ in effluents was usually low (15 ± 11%) even with carbon addition (14 ± 9%), increasing to 33 ± 23% with ammonium addition. By contrast, SMX removal was higher and more consistent among columns (46 ± 21%), with the maximum of 64 ± 9% under iron-reducing conditions. When sulfonamide removal was compared between columns for the same redox zones during infiltration, their enhancements were always associated with the availability of dissolved or particulate substrates, suggesting co-metabolism. Manipulation of the exposure time to optimal redox conditions with substrate amendments, rather than to simply prolong the overall residence time, is recommended for nature-based solutions to tackle target antibiotics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120193
Number of pages11
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 15 Aug 2023


  • Co-metabolism
  • Managed aquifer recharge
  • Nature-based solution
  • Reclaimed water
  • Redox condition
  • Trace organic contaminant

Programme Area

  • Programme Area 2: Water Resources


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