The aim of the study is the evaluation of resistance patterns of E. coli in wastewater treatment plants without an evaluation of basic antibiotic resistance mechanisms. Investigations have been done in sewage, sludge and receiving waters from three different sewage treatment plants in southern Austria. A total of 767 E. coli isolates were tested regarding their resistance to 24 different antibiotics. The highest resistance rates were found in E. coli strains of a sewage treatment plant which treats not only municipal sewage but also sewage from a hospital. Among the antimicrobial agents tested, the highest resistance rates in the penicillin group were found for Ampicillin (AM) (up to 18%) and Piperacillin (PIP) (up to 12%); in the cephalosporin group for Cefalothin (CF) (up to 35%) and Cefuroxime-Axetil (CXMAX) (up to 11%); in the group of quinolones for Nalidixic acid (NA) (up to 15%); and for Trimethoprime/Sulfamethoxazole (SXT) (up to 13%) and for Tetracycline (TE) (57%). Median values for E. coli in the inflow (crude sewage) of the plants were between 2.0 x 10(4) and 6.1 x 10(4)CFU/ml (Coli ID-agar, BioMerieux 42017) but showed a 200-fold reduction in all three plants in the effluent. Nevertheless, more than 10(2)CFU E. coli/ml reached the receiving water and thus sewage treatment processes contribute to the dissemination of resistant bacteria in the environment.