A plot-scale field experiment on a sandy outwash plain in Anoka County in east-central Minnesota was used to investigate the fate and transport of two antibiotics, sulfamethazine (SMZ) and sulfamethoxazole (SMX), and a hormone, 17-beta-estradiol (17BE), in four land-cover types: bare soil, corn, hay, and prairie. The SMZ, SMX, and 17BE were applied to the surface of five plots of each land-cover type in May 2008 and again in April 2009. The cumulative application rate was 16.8 milligrams per square meter (mg/m2) for each antibiotic and 0.6 mg/m2 for 17BE. Concentrations of each chemical in plant-tissue, soil, soil-water, and groundwater samples were determined by using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kits. Soil-water and groundwater sampling events were scheduled to capture the transport of SMZ, SMX, and 17BE during two growing seasons. Soil and plant-tissue sampling events were scheduled to identify the fate of the parent chemicals of SMZ, SMX, and 17BE in these matrices after two chemical applications. Areal concentrations (mg/m2) of SMZ and SMX in soil tended to decrease in prairie plots in the 8 weeks after the second chemical application, from April 2009 to June 2009, but not in other land-cover types. During these same 8 weeks, prairie plots produced more aboveground biomass and had extracted more water from the upper 125 centimeters of the soil profile compared to all other land-cover types. Areal concentrations of SMZ and SMX in prairie plant tissue did not explain the temporal changes in areal concentrations of these chemicals in soil. The areal concentrations of SMZ and SMX in the aboveground plant tissues in June 2009 and August 2009 were much lower, generally two to three orders of magnitude, than the areal concentrations of these chemicals in soil. Pooling all treatment plot data, the median areal concentration of SMZ and SMX in plant tissues was 0.01 and 0.10 percent of the applied chemical mass compared to 22 and 12 percent in soil, respectively. Furthermore, areal concentrations of SMZ and SMX in plant-tissue samples were variable, and did not differ significantly between control and treatment plots within each land-cover type. SMZ was detected in 23 percent of soil-water samples and in 16 percent of groundwater samples collected between October 2008 and October 2009 in treatment plots, indicating that surface-applied SMZ leached below the rooting zone and reached groundwater. SMX was detected in only 1 percent of soil-water and groundwater samples during this same time period. In contrast to the antibiotics, 17BE was not reliably detected in soil samples. Additionally, ELISA-determined 17BE concentrations in plant-tissue, soil-water, and groundwater samples indicated the presence of chemicals that were not applied as part of this experiment [17BE from an external source or other chemical(s) that interfered with the 17BE ELISA kits].
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USGS Numbered Series
Land-cover effects on the fate and transport of surface-applied antibiotics and 17-beta-estradiol on a sandy outwash plain, Anoka County, Minnesota, 2008–09