Journal of Water and Health

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the Hudson River Estuary linked to wet weather sewage contamination

Suzanne Young, Andrew Juhl, Gregory D. O'Mullan


Heterotrophic bacteria resistant to tetracycline and ampicillin were assessed in waterways of the New York City metropolitan area using culture-dependent approaches and 16S rRNA gene sequence analysis of resultant isolates. Resistant microbes were detected at all 10 sampling sites in monthly research cruises on the lower Hudson River Estuary (HRE), with highest concentrations detected at nearshore sites. Higher frequency sampling was conducted in Flushing Bay, to enumerate resistant microbes under both dry and wet weather conditions. Concentrations of ampicillin- and tetracycline-resistant bacteria, in paired samples, were positively correlated with one another and increased following precipitation. Counts of the fecal indicator, Enterococcus, were positively correlated with levels of resistant bacteria, suggesting a shared sewage-associated source. Analysis of 16S rRNA from isolates identified a phylogenetically diverse group of resistant bacteria, including genera containing opportunistic pathogens. The occurrence of Enterobacteriaceae, a family of enteric bacteria, was found to be significantly higher in resistant isolates compared to total heterotrophic bacteria and increased following precipitation. This study is the first to document the widespread distribution of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the HRE and to demonstrate clearly a link between the abundance of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and levels of sewage-associated bacteria in an estuary.

  • antibiotic resistance
  • Enterococcus
  • Hudson River
  • microbiology
  • sewage
  • water quality
  • Received July 27, 2012.
  • Accepted March 5, 2013.