Assessment of antibiotic-resistant infection risks associated with reclaimed wastewater irrigation in intensive tomato cultivation

Water Res. 2024 Mar 7;254:121437. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2024.121437. Online ahead of print.


Agricultural irrigation using reclaimed urban wastewater (RWW) represents a sustainable practice to meet the ever-increasing water stress in modern societies. However, the occurrence of residual antibiotics and antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) in RWW is an important human health concern. This study applied for the first time a novel Simple-Death dose-response model to the field data of Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas spp. collected from three greenhouses for cultivation of tomatoes irrigated with RWW. The model estimates the risk of infection by enteropathogenic E. coli associated with consumption of tomatoes and the risk of eye-infection caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa in cultivation soil through hand-to-eye contacts. The fraction of antibiotic resistant (AR)-E. coli measured in irrigation water and AR-Pseudomonas spp. in soil was incorporated in the model to estimate the survival of ARB and antibiotic susceptible bacteria in the presence of trace level of antibiotics in human body. The results showed that the risk of E. coli infection through consumption of tomatoes irrigated with RWW is within the WHO and USEPA recommended risk threshold (<10-4); Pseudomonas aeruginosa eye-infection risk is at or below the acceptable risk level. The presence of residual antibiotic in human body reduced the overall risk probabilities of infections but selectively enhanced the survival of ARB in comparison to their susceptible counterparts, which resulted in antibiotic untreatable infection. Therefore, the outcomes of this study call for a new risk threshold for antibiotic untreatable infections and highlight the key importance of adopting work safety measures for better human health protection.

PMID:38479171 | DOI:10.1016/j.watres.2024.121437