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J Environ Sci Health A Tox Hazard Subst Environ Eng. 2012;47(2):289-97. doi: 10.1080/10934529.2012.637432.

The effectiveness of sewage treatment processes to remove faecal pathogens and antibiotic residues.

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  • 1Department of Medical Bioscience, University of the Western Cape, South Africa.

Abstract

Pathogens and antibiotics enter the aquatic environment via sewage effluents and may pose a health risk to wild life and humans. The aim of this study was to determine the levels of faecal bacteria, and selected antibiotic residues in raw wastewater and treated sewage effluents from three different sewage treatment plants in the Western Cape, South Africa. Sewage treatment plant 1 and 2 use older technologies, while sewage treatment plant 3 has been upgraded and membrane technologies were incorporated in the treatment processes. Coliforms and Escherichia coli (E. coli) were used as bioindicators for faecal bacteria. A chromogenic test was used to screen for coliforms and E. coli. Fluoroquinolones and sulfamethoxazole are commonly used antibiotics and were selected to monitor the efficiency of sewage treatment processes for antibiotic removal. Enzyme Linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISAs) were used to quantitate antibiotic residues in raw and treated sewage. Raw intake water at all treatment plants contained total coliforms and E. coli. High removal of E. coli by treatment processes was evident for treatment plant 2 and 3 only. Fluoroquinolones and sulfamethoxazole were detected in raw wastewater from all sewage treatment plants. Treatment processes at plant 1 did not reduce the fluoroquinolone concentration in treated sewage effluents. Treatment processes at plant 2 and 3 reduced the fluoroquinolone concentration by 21% and 31%, respectively. Treatment processes at plant 1 did not reduce the sulfamethoxazole concentration in treated sewage effluents. Treatment processes at plant 2 and 3 reduced sulfamethoxazole by 34% and 56%, respectively. This study showed that bacteria and antibiotic residues are still discharged into the environment. Further research needs to be undertaken to improve sewage treatment technologies, thereby producing a better quality treated sewage effluent.

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