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Science of the Total Environment

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Wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) effluent has been implicated in the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB), including pathogens, as the WWTP environment contains multiple selective pressures that may increase mutation rates, pathogen survivability, and induce gene transfer between bacteria. In WWTPs receiving hospital sewage, this selective effect may be more pronounced due to increased concentrations of antibiotics, ARB, and clinical pathogens from hospital sewage. To determine the extent to which hospital sewage contributes to the microbial community of disinfected wastewater which is released into the environment, we used 16S rRNA sequencing of hospital sewage, WWTP influent, primary effluent, Post-Chlorinated Effluent, and receiving sediments in a combined sewage system to track changes in microbial community composition. We also sequenced the culturable survivor community resistant to β-lactam antibiotics within disinfected effluent. Using molecular source tracking, we found that the hospital sewage microbiome contributes an average of 11.49% of the microbial community in Post-Chlorinated Effluents, suggesting microorganisms identified within hospital sewage can survive or are enriched by the chlorination disinfection process. Additionally, we identified 28 potential pathogens to the species level, seven of which remained detectable in Post-Chlorinated Effluent and environmental sediments. When Post-Chlorinated Effluents were cultured on media containing β-lactam antibiotics ceftazidime and meropenem, a diverse antibiotic resistant survivor community was identified including potential human pathogens Bacillus cereus, Bacillus pumilus, and Chryseobacterium indologenes. Together, these results indicate that although wastewater treatment does significantly reduce pathogenic loads and ARBs, their continual presence in disinfected wastewater and receiving sediments suggests additional treatment and microbial tracking systems are needed to reduce human and animal health risks.


Accepted version. Science of the Total Environment, Vol. 740, (October 20, 2020): 140186. DOI. © 2020 Elsevier. Used with permission.

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