Inspiring – and troubling – conversations on pollution and antibiotics resistance

World water week-seminarium

John Tumpane, Carl-Fredrik Flach, Kia Salin, Foon Yin Lai, Avelino Conzalez Gonzalez, Alexander Keucken.


During this year’s World Water Week, Formas and the Swedish Research Council arranged a seminar on the links between new environmental pollutants and antibiotics resistance.

Keynote speakers for the seminar “Challenges of Contaminants of Emerging Concerns, including Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria” were Foon Yin Lai from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Carl-Fredrik Flach from the University of Gothenburg. They presented research challenges around new environmental pollutants and antibiotics resistance. Their key message? Very few harmful substances are regulated in relation to the number of people that surround us in our everyday environment, and although technology has made great strides we still need to develop analytical methods. Antibiotics and other antibacterial substances, such as metals and biocides, can promote the transmission of resistance between bacteria. Regulating emissions is therefore essential.

Discussion of possible action measures

During the discussion that followed, which was moderated by John Tumpane of Formas, the speakers discussed the need for action together with panel members Avelino Conzalez Gonzalez of the EU Commission, Alexander Keucken of Vatten & Miljö i Väst AB and Kia Salin of the Swedish Medical Products Agency, along with the audience. Kia Salin noted that the introduction of regulations on the amount of drug residues that may be released from production facilities represents a low-hanging fruit. Among other needs raised were research on combination effects and the concentration at which the selection for antibiotics resistance can occur, as well as new sewage treatment technologies.

“There is a need for interdisciplinary collaboration”

The seminar attracted close to 50 international participants. Two research secretaries from Formas also attended the event.

- It was inspiring to hear that there is solid knowledge about how we can manage toxins in water in the treatment processes for our drinking water. At the same time, it was troubling to hear that new toxins are popping up all the time. For this reason, it is important that we develop new regulations for better control of toxic emissions and develop new technologies for managing these newly created toxins, says Kristina Laurell, Swedish board representative for the partnership programme Water JPI External link..

Petra Wallberg, Sweden’s board representative for JPI Oceans External link. and in charge of the upcoming call for proposals, Aquatic Pollutants External link., says the seminar confirms that this is an urgent research area.

- The seminar confirmed that there really is a need to create the conditions for establishing interdisciplinary collaboration and communication with needs owners to solve the environmental problems we see both in the freshwater and the marine environment, she says.

To raise awareness of new pollutants and the spread of antibiotics resistance, the JPI on Antimicrobial Resistance (JPIAMR) External link., JPI Oceans and Water JPI are collaborating on behalf of the European Commission for an upcoming research call, an ERA-NET Cofund, which will be presented in early 2020. The hope is that the call will stimulate interdisciplinary research collaboration involving new pollutants, pathogens and antibiotics resistance throughout the field of water.

World Water Week External link. is an international annual conference in Stockholm organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute, SIWI External link.. The conference focuses on new solutions and measures for global water-related challenges and their impact on the environment, health, climate, economy and poverty reduction. At this year’s conference, more than 4,000 people from 127 countries attended.

Updated:17 September 2019