Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Municipal Wastes: Is There Reason for Concern?

Ian L Pepper, John P. Brooks, Charles P Gerba

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Recently, there has been increased concern about the presence of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) and antibiotic resistant genes (ARG), in treated domestic wastewaters, animal manures and municipal biosolids. The concern is whether these additional sources of ARB contribute to antibiotic resistance levels in the environment, that is, "environmental antibiotic resistance." ARB and ARG occur naturally in soil and water, and it remains unclear whether the introduction of ARB in liquid and solid municipal and animal wastes via land application have any significant impact on the background levels of antibiotic resistance in the environment, and whether they affect human exposure to ARB. In this current review, we examine and re-evaluate the incidence of ARB and ARG resulting from land application activities, and offer a new perspective on the threat of antibiotic resistance to public health via exposure from nonclinical environmental sources. Based on inputs of ARBs and ARGs from land application, their fate in soil due to soil microbial ecology principles, and background indigenous levels of ARBs and ARGs already present in soil, we conclude that while antibiotic resistance levels in soil are increased temporally by land application of wastes, their persistence is not guaranteed and is in fact variable, and often contradictory based on application site. Furthermore, the application of wastes may not produce the most direct impact of ARGs and ARB on public health. Further investigation is still warranted in agriculture and public health, including continued scrutiny of antibiotic use in both sectors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3949-3959
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 3 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


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