Antibiotics are increasingly used in livestock production in rural China, raising concerns over pollution and health risk in countryside waterways. The Yinma River Basin in China’s far northeast is an agriculture-dominated area mixed with a densely populated province capitol city, providing a suitable area for investigating the influence of a typical land use mix in Northeast China on riverine antibiotic levels and transport. In this study, we sampled water along the Yinma River from upstream to downstream in a wet and a dry season and analyzed the samples for two popularly used antibiotics, ciprofloxacin (CIP) and norfloxacin (NOR). The goal of the study was to determine the spatiotemporal distribution of the antibiotics in Yinma’s two tributaries, Yitong and Yinma, which drain intensive livestock production land, and to elucidate which environmental and social factors influence the distribution of antibiotics in the cold and low mountainous areas. Water sample collection and instream measurements on dissolved oxygen and other ambient conditions were conducted at 17 locations along the Yinma and Yitong tributaries in August 2015 (wet season) and November 2015 (dry season). In addition to determining CIP and NOR levels, water samples were also analyzed for dissolved organic carbon (DOC), ammonia (NH3
), and free chlorine. We found a significantly higher level of NOR when compared to CIP, indicating greater use of the first in livestock production. The level of both antibiotics was higher in the wet season (NOR: 61.063 ± 13.856 ng L−1
; CIP: 3.453 ± 0.979 ng L−1
) than in the dry season (57.435 ± 14.841 ng L−1
; 3.091 ± 0.824 ng L−1
), suggesting higher runoff of the antibiotics from the drainage area during the raining season. The level of antibiotics was higher in rural areas, especially forested and wetland areas where livestock typically graze, as well as in the lower river basin. However, the health risk of antibiotics is determined by the physical condition and lifestyle of the residents in the river basin, hence showing a higher vulnerability of the urban area than the rural area.
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