Common Wastewater Treatment Methods Are “Creating” New Antibiotics

Many of those reading this now are probably aware that antibiotics are more or les ubiquitous in the environment now — owing to their ubiquitous use, and disposal. Wastewater is often filled antibiotic residues and compounds (as well prescription drugs remnants as well), leading to the rapid spread of microbial antibiotic resistance in recent years.

What most people reading this now are not likely to have been aware of, though, is that many of the common treatment methods used to clean wastewater may actually be creating entirely new, novel anitibiotics — antibiotics with unknown effects on human and animal health, as well as contributing to the rise of antibiotic resistant microbes.

antibiotic resistance

“This research is a small piece of a larger question,” stated researcher Olya Keen. “There are varieties of antibiotics found in wastewater, and, at this point, we are just testing one. It is in a class of antibiotics that all have similar compositions, so we anticipate that other antibiotics in this class may respond the same way.”

“Wastewater treatment is designed to break down biological substances but not antibiotics,” stated Keen. “Surprisingly enough, though, we are finding in the lab that not only is chlorine not breaking down antibiotics, but it is actually creating even stronger antibiotics than the original doxycycline.”

A recent press release provides more:

The antibiotic Keen and her student are studying is doxycycline, which falls into one of the more widely used classes of antibiotics. Their research to date is showing that chlorine used to treat wastewater is actually changing the makeup of the doxycycline and forming new antibiotics.

Antibiotics find their way into wastewater in several ways. Those not broken down by the human body are passed to wastewater, expired antibiotics from homes and hospitals are dumped into wastewater, and there is discharge of antibiotic materials from pharmaceutical companies.

“Wastewater tests have found every type of antibiotic known,” Keen stated. “The problems antibiotics cause when they are not broken down by treatment is they get into streams, where bacteria are becoming immune to them, and more dangerous, super bug, bacteria can be formed.”

“Antibiotics in wastewater are already impacting aquatic life,” she stated. “This can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which humans and animals may not be able to fight off. We’re hoping to eventually find better ways of breaking down the antibiotics during wastewater treatment or developing preventative solutions to keep antibiotics out of wastewater in the first place.”

About the Author

's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy. You can follow his work on Google+.
  • Brian

    This is why we need composting toilettes. we need to treat human waste at the source, and return it back to the soil, the way nature intended it.