Triclosan may spoil wastewater treatment

Common antimicrobial could thwart microbes that clean up sewage sludge

8:52am, June 19, 2014

MICROBIAL WORKFORCE  The microbes that break down sewage solids in wastewater treatment plants (one shown) may be threatened by triclosan, a ubiquitous antimicrobial agent.

Triclosan, after being flushed down the drain, may muck up sewage treatment. In wastewater treatment plants, the omnipresent antimicrobial can sabotage some sludge-processing microbes and promote drug resistance in others.

The antimicrobial, a common ingredient in personal care products such as hand soaps and toothpaste, accumulates in municipal treatment plants across the country. In lab experiments, researchers have now found that concentrations of triclosan present in wastewater can destabilize the microbial communities that help treat sewage solids, which can then be used as fertilizer.

Triclosan may also encourage the growth of microbes that are immune to drugs, increasing the chances that drug-resistant microbes will spread in the environment via fertilizers, the researchers found. The results appear June 10 in Environmental Science & Technology.

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