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Antibiotic resistance genes fate and removal by a technological treatment solution for water reuse in agriculture

Luprano, Maria Laura, De Sanctis, Marco, Del Moro, Guido, Di Iaconi, Claudio, Lopez, Antonio, Levantesi, Caterina
The Science of the total environment 2016 v.571 pp. 809-818
Escherichia coli, activated sludge, antibiotic resistance, bacteria, biofilters, biological treatment, disinfection, filtration, genes, human health, municipal wastewater, peracetic acid, quantitative polymerase chain reaction, ribosomal DNA, sand, ultraviolet radiation, water reuse
In order to mitigate the potential effects on the human health which are associated to the use of treated wastewater in agriculture, antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) are required to be carefully monitored in wastewater reuse processes and their spread should be prevented by the development of efficient treatment technologies. Objective of this study was the assessment of ARGs reduction efficiencies of a novel technological treatment solution for agricultural reuse of municipal wastewaters. The proposed solution comprises an advanced biological treatment (Sequencing Batch Biofilter Granular Reactor, SBBGR), analysed both al laboratory and pilot scale, followed by sand filtration and two different disinfection final stages: ultraviolet light (UV) radiation and peracetic acid (PAA) treatments. By Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR), the presence of 9 ARGs (ampC, mecA, ermB, sul1, sul2, tetA, tetO, tetW, vanA) were analysed and by quantitative PCR (qPCR) their removal was determined. The obtained results were compared to the reduction of total bacteria (16S rDNA gene) and of a faecal contamination indicator (Escherichia coli uidA gene). Only four of the analysed genes (ermB, sul1, sul2, tetA) were detected in raw wastewater and their abundance was estimated to be 3.4±0.7 x104 - 9.6±0.5 x109 and 1.0±0.3 x103 to 3.0±0.1 x107 gene copies/mL in raw and treated wastewaters, respectively. The results show that SBBGR technology is promising for the reduction of ARGs, achieving stable removal performance ranging from 1.0±0.4 to 2.8±0.7 log units, which is comparable to or higher than that reported for conventional activated sludge treatments. No reduction of the ARGs amount normalized to the total bacteria content (16S rDNA), was instead obtained, indicating that these genes are removed together with total bacteria and not specifically eliminated. Enhanced ARGs removal was obtained by sand filtration, while no reduction was achieved by both UV and PAA disinfection treatments tested in our study.