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Antibiotic resistance gene abundances associated with waste discharges to the Almendares river near Havana, Cuba

Graham, David W and Olivares-Rieumont, Susana and Knapp, Charles and Lima, Lazaro and Werner, David and Bowen, Emma (2011) Antibiotic resistance gene abundances associated with waste discharges to the Almendares river near Havana, Cuba. Environmental Science and Technology, 45 (2). pp. 418-424. ISSN 0013-936X

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Abstract

Considerable debate exists over the primary cause of increased antibiotic resistance (AR) worldwide. Evidence suggests increasing AR results from overuse of antibiotics in medicine and therapeutic and nontherapeutic applications in agriculture. However, pollution also can influence environmental AR, particularly associated with heavy metal, pharmaceutical, and other waste releases, although the relative scale of the “pollution” contribution is poorly defined, which restricts targeted mitigation efforts. The question is “where to study and quantify AR from pollution versus other causes to best understand the pollution effect”. One useful site is Cuba because industrial pollution broadly exists; antibiotics are used sparingly in medicine and agriculture; and multiresistant bacterial infections are increasing in clinical settings without explanation. Within this context, we quantified 13 antibiotic resistance genes (ARG; indicators of AR potential), 6 heavy metals, 3 antibiotics, and 17 other organic pollutants at 8 locations along the Almendares River in western Havana at sites bracketing known waste discharge points, including a large solid waste landfill and various pharmaceutical factories. Significant correlations (p < 0.05) were found between sediment ARG levels, especially for tetracyclines and β-lactams (e.g., tet(M), tet(O), tet(Q), tet(W), blaOXA), and sediment Cu and water column ampicillin levels in the river. Further, sediment ARG levels increased by up to 3 orders of magnitude downstream of the pharmaceutical factories and were highest where human population densities also were high. Although explicit links are not shown, results suggest that pollution has significantly increased background AR levels in a setting where other causes of AR are less prevalent.