State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

The Role of Wastewater Treatment in Drug Resistance

chandran1One of the main threats to health in both the developing and developed worlds is the increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics.  On February 19, Kartik Chandran, Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Engineering talked with Water Center staff and students about his study of the role wastewater treatment might play in this complex issue.

Prescription drugs in human wastes, bacteria, chemicals and heavy metals in agricultural and industrial waste, along with other compounds, are causing anti-biotic resistance to spread not only in drinking water sources, but through watershed environments.

Professor Chandran’s talk, the “Role of wastewater treatment processes in amplifying or attenuating drug-resistant bacteria and drug resistance genes,” discussed the results of studying three different Waste Water Treatment Plants (WWTP) in New York State and Connecticut. (See the recent paper for specifics)

He found that across the different processing systems studied, first level biogenic treatments did not cause any significant increase or decrease in the amount of Tetracycline Resistant Bacteria (TRB), or in Tetracycline Resistance Genes (TRG) (which can be transferred to other bacteria).  Secondary treatments, such as UV irradiation and Chlorine significantly reduced the amount of these materials that were released as effluent. Even with treatment, the WWTP’s continued to introduce these materials into the environment.

In the course of the study, they developed a model that can calculate the production of TRB’s and TRG’s in any type of treatment system around the world. The work can also help  engineers and policy makers optimize treatment systems for the reduction of drug-resistant bacteria.

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Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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