Fate of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes during conventional and additional treatment technologies in wastewater treatment plants

N.A. Sabri, S. van Holst, H. Schmitt, B.M. van der Zaan, H.W. Gerritsen, H.H.M. Rijnaarts, A.A.M. Langenhoff*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

77 Citations (Scopus)


Information on the removal of antibiotics and ARGs in full-scale WWTPs (with or without additional treatment technology) is limited. However, it is important to understand the efficiency of full-scale treatment technologies in removing antibiotics and ARGs under a variety of conditions relevant for practice to reduce their environmental spreading. Therefore, this study was performed to evaluate the removal of antibiotics and ARGs in a conventional wastewater treatment plant (WWTP A) and two full-scale combined with additional treatment technologies. WWTP B, a conventional activated sludge treatment followed by an activated carbon filtration step (1-STEP® filter) as a final treatment step. WWTP C, a treatment plant using aerobic granular sludge (NEREDA®) as an alternative to activated sludge treatment. Water and sludge were collected and analysed for 52 antibiotics from four target antibiotic groups (macrolides, sulfonamides, quinolones, tetracyclines) and four target ARGs (ermB, sul 1, sul 2 and tetW) and integrase gene class 1 (intI1). Despite the high removal percentages (79–88%) of the total load of antibiotics in all WWTPs, some antibiotics were detected in the various effluents. Additional treatment technology (WWTP C) showed antibiotics removal up to 99% (tetracyclines). For ARGs, WWTP C reduced 2.3 log followed by WWTP A with 2.0 log, and WWTP B with 1.3 log. This shows that full-scale WWTP with an additional treatment technology are promising solutions for reducing emissions of antibiotics and ARGs from wastewater treatment plants. However, total removal of the antibiotics and ARGS cannot be achieved for all types of antibiotics and ARGs. In addition, the ARGs were more abundant in the sludge compared to the wastewater effluent suggesting that sludge is an important reservoir representing a source for later ARG emissions upon reuse, i.e. as fertilizer in agriculture or as resource for bioplastics or bioflocculants. These aspects require further research.

Original languageEnglish
Article number140199
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Antibiotic resistance genes
  • Antibiotics
  • Full-scale WWTP
  • Tertiary treatment
  • Treatment technology


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