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Antibiotic resistance in urban and hospital wastewaters and their impact on a receiving freshwater ecosystem

Lorenzo, Proia, Adriana, Anzil, Jessica, Subirats, Carles, Borrego, Marinella, Farrè, Marta, Llorca, Luis, Balcázar Jose, Pierre, Servais
Chemosphere 2018 v.206 pp. 70-82
Escherichia coli, amoxicillin, antibiotic resistance, antibiotic resistance genes, bacterial communities, effluents, fecal bacteria, freshwater ecosystems, hospitals, nalidixic acid, rivers, sulfamethoxazole, urban areas, wastewater, wastewater treatment, Belgium
The main objective of this study was to investigate the antibiotic resistance (AR) levels in wastewater (WW) and the impact on the receiving river. Samples were collected once per season over one year in the WW of a hospital, in the raw and treated WW of two wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs), as well as upstream and downstream from the release of WWTPs effluents into the Zenne River (Belgium). Culture-dependent methods were used to quantify Escherichia coli and heterotrophic bacteria resistant to amoxicillin, sulfamethoxazole, nalidixic acid and tetracycline. Six antibiotic resistance genes (ARGs) were quantified in both particle-attached (PAB) and free-living (FLB) bacteria. Our results showed that WWTPs efficiently removed antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) regardless of its AR profile. The ARGs levels were the highest in the hospital WW and were significantly reduced in both WWTPs. However, ARB and ARGs abundances significantly increased into the Zenne River downstream from the WWTPs outfalls. The variation in the relative abundance of ARGs through WW treatment differed depending on the WWTP, fraction, and gene considered. The sul1 and sul2 genes in PAB fraction showed significantly higher relative abundances in the effluent compared to the influent of both WWTPs. This study demonstrated that WWTPs could be hotspots for AR spread with significant impacts on receiving freshwater ecosystems. This was the first comprehensive study investigating at the same time antibiotics occurrence, fecal bacteria indicators, heterotrophic bacterial communities, and ARGs (distinguishing PAB and FLB) to assess AR levels in WW and impacts on the receiving river.