Wastewater Snow-Making ‘Could Breed Super-Bacteria’

by | Oct 11, 2012

Research carried out at the Arizona Snowbowl ski resort that earlier this year won a court case allowing it to use sewage effluent for snow-making has found that its wastewater system is a potential breeding ground for antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The report, titled Antibiotic Resistance Gene Testing of Recycled Water Samples in Flagstaff, AZ, describes antibiotic resistance as a “growing problem” and a “major challenge to human health” as it results in a loss in drug effectiveness for treating bacterial infections. Such bacteria are able to fight antibiotics through changes to their DNA, the report says.
Although the number of antibiotic resistant genes was “relatively diminished” in recycled water at the Flagstaff, Ariz, wastewater facility from which the Snowbowl sources its snow, their presence dramatically increased at the point of use, such as sprinkler heads, according to the report.
The research has yet to be published or peer reviewed, but officials in Flagstaff are concerned enough to have invited report author Amy Pruden, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virgina Tech, to join an advisory panel that the city formed last week, reports the New York Times.
Pruden told the Times that the next step would be to analyze the live bacteria that might be carrying the antibiotic resistant genes through the pipes. If, as a result, known antibiotic-resistant pathogens were then found in the water, there would be cause for alarm, Pruden told the Times.
The Snowbowl’s general manager said that it should be noted that small amounts of chemicals and contaminants are routinely found in drinking water, the Times reports.
The resort avoided legal censure for its reuse of human wastewater to make snow in February this year. Angered by the use of wastewater on the Native American holy land on which the resort sits, the Hopi Tribe filed a lawsuit in August 2011, claiming city contract to sell 1.5 million gallons of reclaimed wastewater to the ski resort violated several Arizona laws that govern the use of treated sewage effluent.
On February 9 the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the legal efforts of the tribe, but during the hearings health concerns about the use of wastewater for recreational use were raised by both tribe members and local residents.

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