An upsurge in the study of antibiotic resistance in the environment has been observed in the last decade. Nowadays, it is becoming increasingly clear that urban wastewater is a key source of antibiotic resistance determinants, i.e. antibiotic-resistant bacteria and antibiotic resistance genes (ARB&ARGs). Urban wastewater reuse has arisen as an important component of water resources management in the European Union and worldwide to address prolonged water scarcity issues. Especially, biological wastewater treatment processes (i.e. conventional activated sludge), which are widely applied in urban wastewater treatment plants, have been shown to provide an ideal environment for the evolution and spread of antibiotic resistance. The ability of advanced chemical oxidation processes (AOPs), e.g. light-driven oxidation in the presence of H2O2, ozonation, homogeneous and heterogeneous photocatalysis, to inactivate ARB and remove ARGs in wastewater effluents has not been yet evaluated through a systematic and integrated approach. Consequently, this review seeks to provide an extensive and critical appraisal on the assessment of the efficiency of these processes in inactivating ARB and removing ARGs in wastewater effluents, based on recent available scientific literature. It tries to elucidate how the key operating conditions may affect the process efficiency, while pinpointing potential areas for further research and major knowledge gaps which need to be addressed. Also, this review aims at shedding light on the main oxidative damage pathways involved in the inactivation of ARB and removal of ARGs by these processes. In general, the lack and/or heterogeneity of the available scientific data, as well as the different methodological approaches applied in the various studies, make difficult the accurate evaluation of the efficiency of the processes applied. Besides the operating conditions, the variable behavior observed by the various examined genetic constituents of the microbial community, may be directed by the process distinct oxidative damage mechanisms in place during the application of each treatment technology. For example, it was shown in various studies that the majority of cellular damage by advanced chemical oxidation may be on cell wall and membrane structures of the targeted bacteria, leaving the internal components of the cells relatively intact/able to repair damage. As a result, further in-depth mechanistic studies are required, to establish the optimum operating conditions under which oxidative mechanisms target internal cell components such as genetic material and ribosomal structures more intensively, thus conferring permanent damage and/or death and preventing potential post-treatment re-growth.
Keywords: Advanced chemical oxidation; Antibiotic resistance; Inactivation mechanisms; Wastewater treatment.
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