Taking a global approach to understanding antibiotic resistance in the water cycle

March 5, 2018

All over the world, multi-drug resistant bacterial infections are becoming increasingly common and progressively more difficult to treat. The social and economic implications of this escalating problem are so severe that the World Health Organization (WHO) has classified antibiotic resistance as a ‘global health emergency’.

The drivers underlying the increase in multi-drug resistant pathogens are complex, but links between antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans, animals, and the environment have been demonstrated.

As governments worldwide respond to the WHO’s call for multi-sector action to address this problem the water sector is also assessing its role.

In Vienna last September, the Global Water Research Coalition (GWRC) and the Netherlands Foundation for Applied Water Research (STOWA) co-hosted a workshop entitled ‘Antibiotic resistance in the water environment – setting up a risk based project’. Erica Donner (UniSA) attended on behalf of WaterRA.

During the workshop, antibiotic resistance was recognised as relevant to several key areas of business activity, including drinking water, recreational water, wastewater treatment, recycled water, and biosolids. A preliminary risk assessment matrix was presented by STOWA representative and facilitator, Imke Leenen (H2Oké). This was used as the basis for workshopping the current state of knowledge and identifying key data gaps that are impeding appropriate risk assessment.

It was evident from this discussion that there is currently insufficient knowledge to assess the risks associated with antibiotic resistance in the water cycle. This also prevents comparison against other known risks managed by water utilities. Subsequent discussions further indicated that a standard, matrix-based risk assessment approach is likely not feasible or appropriate.

Action is now being taken on several fronts within the GWRC membership to address this issue and to support appropriate risk assessment. An effort is being made to align the various international research initiatives to optimise the research outcomes and minimize duplication of research effort.

Follow this link to download the workshop summary.

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