Performance of full scale constructed wetlands in removing antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes

N.A. Sabri, H. Schmitt, B.M. van der Zaan, H.W. Gerritsen, H.H.M. Rijnaarts, A.A.M. Langenhoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Additional treatment of wastewater, such as constructed wetlands (CWs), is a possible solution to reduce the discharge of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) from households and industry to the environment. This study aims to investigate the occurrence and removal of antibiotics and ARGs by two full scale CWs operated at different hydraulic retention times (HRT), namely 1 day and 3 days. Both CWs were receiving the same wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluent. Temporally and spatially distributed sampling of water and sediment was conducted for one year and samples were analyzed for antibiotics and ARGs by using LC-MS/MS and qPCR. Results showed that both CWs removed antibiotics significantly with a comparable overall removal of 28%–100%, depending on the type of antibiotics. However, some of the antibiotics showed higher concentration after the CW treatment. Five antibiotics (tiamulin, tylosin, oxytetracycline, sulfamethoxazole and trimethoprim) were the most abundant (>1500 ng/l on average) in winter. Meanwhile, ermB was the most abundant (average of 5.0 log) in winter compared to summer (average of 3.5 log). Other ARGs did not show a significant increase or decrease between winter and summer. ARGs were removed from the wastewater by 0.8 to 1.5 log. The HRT did not influence the removal of either the antibiotics or the ARGs. A strong correlation was found between sul genes and intI1. The results also revealed a positive and a negative relationship from sampling point 1 to sampling point 5: a positive relation between abundance of antibiotics, ARGs, and of NO3–N, NH4–N, TP, COD and a negative relation between antibiotics, ARGs and temperature. This relationship showed the effect between antibiotics and ARGs concentrations with physicochemical parameters and nutrients. The ability of CWs to reduce the input of micropollutants into the environment makes CWs a potential post treatment to WWTP.

Original languageEnglish
Article number147368
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date28 Apr 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Antibiotic resistance genes
  • Antibiotics
  • Constructed wetlands
  • Full-scale
  • Phragmites australis
  • Wastewater treatment plant


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