News Feature | May 21, 2014

Wastewater Discharged By Hospitals May Contain Harmful Organisms

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

The wastewater discharged by hospitals may be introducing dangerous organisms into the environment that could pose a threat to public health, according to a study published this month by the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases

The study tested for extended-spectrum beta-lactamase-producing Escherichia coli (ESBLEC). The research aimed to identify opportunities "to dampen the spread of antibiotic resistance," a summary from Clinical Infectious Diseases reported.

"The researchers analyzed wastewater samples drawn from 11 sites throughout the wastewater network of Besançon, a city of a quarter million residents. The samples were collected weekly during a 10-week period in 2011. They included discharge from 2 hospitals (containing only effluent and rainwater), wastewater from sites unrelated to the hospital, and wastewater collected before and after it went through the municipal wastewater treatment plant," Medscape Medical News reported

The results?

"Hospital effluent was clearly identified as the major contributor to the waste stream ESBLEC burden," the summary from Clinical Infectious Diseases said. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hospital wastewater is similar to urban wastewater, but it may include organisms that are more dangerous. 

"The principal area of concern is wastewater with a high content of enteric pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and helminths, which are easily transmitted through water. Contaminated wastewater is produced by wards treating patients with enteric diseases and is a particular problem during outbreaks of diarrheal disease," the report said. 

The WHO listed criteria for "discharging the sewage of health-care establishments to municipal sewers without pretreatment." One criterion was that "the municipal sewers are connected to efficiently operated sewage treatment plants that ensure at least 95 percent removal of bacteria."

Hospitals are a key source of pharmaceutical pollution in the water supply, according to DHI Solutions, a consulting company. This firm said it is vital that hospitals "treat their wastewater before it is discharged," DHI said. 

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