Wastewater Treatment: The Toxic Avenger in your toilet

You’ve probably heard the reports about drugs in our water that aren’t removed by traditional wastewater treatment.

Maybe you’ve heard about the harmful byproducts spawned when chlorine is used in the water treatment process.

Here’s a new one: Super bacteria that are actually being created (and made stronger) in the wastewater treatment process. It goes back, in part, to the common use of antibiotics to treat routine illnesses. Remember the last time you were sick and went to the doctor? Did you leave with a prescription for Z-Pac?

The March issue of the journal Science of The Total Environment includes a study by researchers at the University of Michigan, who tested effluent from an Ann Arbor plant that discharges treated wastewater to the Huron River.

Wastewater plants use “good bugs” to knock out bacteria before wastewater is discharged. But when resistant bacteria meet these bugs, they can become stronger, something like The Toxic Avenger, the scientists say.

Imagine swimming in contaminated water and being sickened by a bacteria that actually thrives on antibiotics and drugs.

The U of M researchers exposed a bacteria called Acinetobacter to various antibiotics and drugs, and found “a significant increase in the percentage of Acinetobacter that were resistant after each stage of treatment,” according to a write-up in Environmental Health News.

“The bacteria were as much as 10 times more resistant to some antibiotics after secondary treatment at the Michigan plant. Also, in the river downstream of the plant, they were up to 2.7 times more resistant than bacteria upstream, according to the study.”

What does this all mean? Are we treating water and wastewater the wrong way? Are new processes needed? Do we need to attack the super bugs now? This is giving me a super headache.

[photo credit: vaticanus, via flickr]

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4 comments on “Wastewater Treatment: The Toxic Avenger in your toilet


Scary! Let’s hope this is never getting “out of control” … or, we need to find a better way to treat waste water.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009, from 9 to 11 P.M. ET on PBS


Hi Jeff,

Maybe the solution is to use algae as the mechanism to treat wastewater, this was advocated in the 1960’s but never take up until now. By the way algae also consumes carbon in large quantities. A NREL study in the US suggests for every 1 tonne of algae biomass produced; it absorbs 1.5 tonnes of carbon in either liquid or atmospheric form and exhausts 1.2 tonnes of oxygen, not surprising as it is a microscopic plant! and finally by processing the algae we can produce biodiesel.




Hey – great article. Stumbled upon it by accident but I’m glad I did. Will be back again daily. Cheers.

For me it depends how toxic the water is,we cannot say that water from wash dishes will become toxic to the toilet,maybe it depends upon the situation and to the place.But if it comes to an industrial company maybe we should stop it because it will become harmful to the environment as well as the people.

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