Freshwater contaminants tend to precipitate into intertidal surface sediments, particularly in the estuary and intertidal zones during freshwater–seawater mixing. Quinolone-type antibiotics are such contaminants, and their concentrations in the intertidal sediments are important indicators for the whole spectrum of antibiotics used in the estuary and adjacent areas. The impacts of sediment types and environmental factors on the distribution of 16 quinolones were probed based on nine Bohai and 42 Yellow Sea intertidal sediment samples. The samples were collected from locations along the coastal areas in China. Quinolones were detected in all samples, while moxifloxacin, ciprofloxacin, and ofloxacin were detected at a frequency >50%. Sediment types, pH, organic carbon content, K, Na and Fe concentrations had little correlation with quinolone distributions in intertidal sediments. However, combined concentrations of Ca + Mg (46.7 g/kg in Bohai and 13.7 g/kg in Yellow Sea samples) appeared to correlate with oxolinic acid detecting frequencies (88.9% and 4.8%, respectively) and concentrations (2.0–10.1 μg/g and up to 3.09 μg/g, respectively). Different detection frequencies of the quinolones could be attributed to the formation of cation bridges between oxolinic acid and Ca + Mg, which results in dominant sorption of oxolinic acid at different locations and sediment matrices.

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