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Can Antiobiotic Resistance be Spread by Wastewater Treatment Plants?


On a warm, sunny day, there’s nothing more refreshing than pouring a glass of nice, cold water, right from the tap. You might even add a slice of lemon and voila, you have a tasty drink that’s healthy to boot. That is … as long as you have contaminant-free water.

How safe is your drinking water?

The scary thing is, many people don’t have their water tested regularly, especially if they live in a community served by municipal water sources. After all, the local authorities are responsible for ensuring the water is safe for public use and consumption, right?

While this is generally true, it doesn’t always guarantee contaminant-free water. In fact, recent research indicates that small amounts of antibiotic resistant DNA have been discovered in the products of wastewater treatment plants.

How do antibiotics reach wastewater treatment plants?

If you’ve ever been to the doctor and been diagnosed with a bacterial infection, you’ve likely received a prescription for an antibiotic. These useful drugs help to kill bacteria, or at least slow their growth, giving you a little more sickness fighting power than your body has on its own. During the course of treatment, most of the medication is absorbed and used by your body, but small amounts of antibiotic are excreted through waste. These particles then make their way to wastewater treatment plants.

Are antibiotics fully removed from waste water?

At wastewater treatment plants, contaminated water is cleaned. This often includes a combination of filtration procedures and the use of microscopic bacteria that digest and eliminate waste products found in the water. When these bacteria encounter the “leftover” antibiotics that remain in the waste water, they develop resistance genes, which are then passed on to other bacteria cells. Over time, and as they continue to consume waste products, these bacteria grow in size and also reproduce. This forms what is known as biomass. Where does the biomass go? Most of the time, it is brought to the landfill or used in fertilizers.

How does antibiotic resistant DNA get into drinking water?

When antibiotic resistant bacteria are found in biomass, it’s easy to see how they can make their way into surrounding soils and eventually into the water supply. But biomass is not the only place that these bacteria are found outside the treatment plants.

Sometimes, the antibiotic resistant bacteria also make it through the filtration systems at wastewater treatment facilities. They are then whisked away from the plant via the effluent, a fancy name for the water that leaves the facility after it has been treated or cleaned. This water is then used in a variety of ways – for irrigation, fighting fires, or replenishing groundwater supplies, just to name a few. Any of these uses can lead to water containing antibiotic resistant bacteria making its way into drinking water.

How to protect your drinking water supply

Whether you have a personal well or rely on municipal water, it’s important to have your water tested periodically to make sure that it is contaminant free and safe to drink. For the ultimate protection, install a Rayne drinking water system and enjoy safe, great tasting water all year long. Then you can relax, pour a glass of water, and drink up!