Management options for reducing the release of antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes to the environment

Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Aug;121(8):878-85. doi: 10.1289/ehp.1206446. Epub 2013 Jun 4.


Background: There is growing concern worldwide about the role of polluted soil and water environments in the development and dissemination of antibiotic resistance.

Objective: Our aim in this study was to identify management options for reducing the spread of antibiotics and antibiotic-resistance determinants via environmental pathways, with the ultimate goal of extending the useful life span of antibiotics. We also examined incentives and disincentives for action.

Methods: We focused on management options with respect to limiting agricultural sources; treatment of domestic, hospital, and industrial wastewater; and aquaculture.

Discussion: We identified several options, such as nutrient management, runoff control, and infrastructure upgrades. Where appropriate, a cross-section of examples from various regions of the world is provided. The importance of monitoring and validating effectiveness of management strategies is also highlighted. Finally, we describe a case study in Sweden that illustrates the critical role of communication to engage stakeholders and promote action.

Conclusions: Environmental releases of antibiotics and antibiotic-resistant bacteria can in many cases be reduced at little or no cost. Some management options are synergistic with existing policies and goals. The anticipated benefit is an extended useful life span for current and future antibiotics. Although risk reductions are often difficult to quantify, the severity of accelerating worldwide morbidity and mortality rates associated with antibiotic resistance strongly indicate the need for action.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Animal Husbandry / methods
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / analysis*
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Aquaculture
  • Decision Making
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Industrial Waste / analysis
  • Medical Waste / analysis
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid*
  • Waste Water / analysis
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / pharmacology
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / analysis
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / prevention & control*


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Industrial Waste
  • Medical Waste
  • Waste Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical