Quantcast

Wastewater Treatment Plants Could Contribute to a ‘Post-Antibiotic World,’ Study Warns

Health + Wellness
A wastewater treatment plant. dszc / E+ / Getty Images

Antibiotic-resistance is a growing concern, and now a new study from the University of Southern California (USC) has pinpointed another way it can spread: through wastewater treatment plants.

The study, published in Environmental Science and Technology last week, found that if bacteria in wastewater treatment plants are exposed to just one type of antibiotic, they can actually develop resistance to several drugs.


"We're quickly getting to a scary place that's called a 'post-antibiotic world,' where we can no longer fight infections with antibiotics anymore because microbes have adapted to be resilient against those antibiotics," lead researcher and USC assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering Adam Smith said in a USC press release published by Phys.org Wednesday. "Unfortunately, engineered water treatment systems end up being sort of a hot-bed for antibiotic resistance."

USC explained how antibiotic-resistant bacteria can spread through the wastewater treatment process:

  1. Trace amounts of antibiotic end up in wastewater treatment plants via human waste.
  2. Wastewater is treated with a membrane bioreactor, a process by which water is both filtered and treated by microscopic bacteria that consume waste.
  3. The bacteria build up resistance to the antibiotics in the waste.
  4. The resistant bacteria enter the wider world in one of two ways. As biomass, the buildup of bacteria that is disposed of in landfills or used as fertilizer or livestock feed, or as effluent, the water that leaves the treatment plant.

The research team wanted to develop a process that would reduce the amount of resistant bacteria produced by wastewater treatment. They tested a system that used oxygen-free treatment processes and a membrane filter and then compared the drug-resistance of the bacteria in both the effluent and biomass produced by their system.

The most startling finding was that the antibiotics they introduced to the system were not the only drugs the bacteria would emerge able to resist. Instead, they developed the ability to resist multiple drugs.

"The multi-drug resistance does seem to be the most alarming impact of this," Smith said. "Regardless of the influent antibiotics, whether it's just one or really low concentrations, there's likely a lot of multi-drug resistance that's spreading."

The research team plans next to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on applying what they have learned to animal waste.

The widespread use of antibiotics in factory farming, and the resultant spreading of those antibiotics into the environment through waste disposal, is a major concern for those worried about growing drug resistance. As of 2018, around 70 percent of antibiotics in the U.S. are consumed by animals, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reported.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signs the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule on June 19, replacing the Obama-era Clean Power Plan that would have reduced coal-fired plant carbon emissions. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency / Twitter

By Elliott Negin

On July 8, President Trump hosted a White House event to unabashedly tout his truly abysmal environmental record. The following day, coincidentally, marked the one-year anniversary of Andrew Wheeler at the helm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), first as acting administrator and then as administrator after the Senate confirmed him in late February.

Read More Show Less
A timber sale in the Kaibab National Forest. Dyan Bone / Forest Service / Southwestern Region / Kaibab National Forest

By Tara Lohan

If you're a lover of wilderness, wildlife, the American West and the public lands on which they all depend, then journalist Christopher Ketcham's new book is required — if depressing — reading.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Golde Wallingford submitted this photo of "Pure Joy" to EcoWatch's first photo contest. Golde Wallingford

EcoWatch is pleased to announce our third photo contest!

Read More Show Less
Somalians fight against hunger and lack of water due to drought as Turkish Ambassador to Somalia, Olgan Bekar (not seen) visits the a camp near the Mogadishu's rural side in Somalia on March 25, 2017. Sadak Mohamed / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

World hunger is on the rise for the third consecutive year after decades of decline, a new United Nations (UN) report says. The climate crisis ranks alongside conflict as the top cause of food shortages that force more than 821 million people worldwide to experience chronic hunger. That number includes more than 150 million children whose growth is stunted due to a lack of food.

Read More Show Less
Eduardo Velev cools off in the spray of a fire hydrant during a heatwave on July 1, 2018 in Philadelphia. Jessica Kourkounis / Getty Images

By Adrienne L. Hollis

Because extreme heat is one of the deadliest weather hazards we currently face, Union of Concerned Scientist's Killer Heat Report for the U.S. is the most important document I have read. It is a veritable wake up call for all of us. It is timely, eye-opening, transparent and factual and it deals with the stark reality of our future if we do not make changes quickly (think yesterday). It is important to ensure that we all understand it. Here are 10 terms that really help drive home the messages in the heat report and help us understand the ramifications of inaction.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Senator Graham returns after playing a round of golf with Trump on Oct. 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. Ron Sachs – Pool / Getty Images

Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Senate Republican who has been a close ally of Donald Trump, did not mince words last week on the climate crisis and what he thinks the president needs to do about it.

Read More Show Less
A small Bermuda cedar tree sits atop a rock overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. todaycouldbe / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Marlene Cimons

Kyle Rosenblad was hiking a steep mountain on the island of Maui in the summer of 2015 when he noticed a ruggedly beautiful tree species scattered around the landscape. Curious, and wondering what they were, he took some photographs and showed them to a friend. They were Bermuda cedars, a species native to the island of Bermuda, first planted on Maui in the early 1900s.

Read More Show Less
krisanapong detraphiphat / Moment / Getty Images

By Grace Francese

You may know that many conventional oat cereals contain troubling amounts of the carcinogenic pesticide glyphosate. But another toxic pesticide may be contaminating your kids' breakfast. A new study by the Organic Center shows that almost 60 percent of the non-organic milk sampled contains residues of chlorpyrifos, a pesticide scientists say is unsafe at any concentration.

Read More Show Less