Ditch the disinfectant

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Household cleaning products are responsible for the increase in drug-resistant bacteria, according to a report from Warwick University. Disinfectants, detergents and other cleaning chemicals enter the sewage system which then enters the UK rivers and watercourses, along with 11 billion litres of waste water from houses and factories. In addition, some of the UK’s annual 1.5m tonnes of sewage sludge  is spread on farmland. Soil samples from many rivers and agricultural areas have been found to contain high levels of antibiotic-resistant genes.

The study looked at quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs) which are found in many household cleaning products. In high concentrations, QACs kill bacteria however in sewage and water, they become diluted and bacteria have evolved to resist them. The DNA which makes a microbe QAC resistant also allows resistance to antibiotics.

“We are producing sewage and river water that have more and more drug-resistant bacteria in them and these are now poised to enter the food chain. Once they are in the land, these bacteria will get into the bodies of agricultural workers or people who use the land recreationally and will form reservoirs of drug-resistant microbes that could pose all sorts of problems. This is going to need a great deal of monitoring.” – Dr William Gaze, Warwick Uni.

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