This study investigated the impact of each treatment stage of the activated sludge process on the fate of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) in wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs). Wastewater and sludge samples were collected monthly at each stage of a commercial-scale WWTP. After 20–25 strains of indicator Escherichia coli were isolated from each sample on Chromocult Coliform Agar, antibiotic resistance of the isolates to amoxicillin (AMX), ciprofloxacin (CIP), norfloxacin (NFX), kanamycin (KM), sulfamethoxazole/trimethoprim (ST) and tetracycline (TC) were tested with the Kirby–Bauer disk diffusion method. As a result, activated sludge in the aeration tank and return sludge had higher abundance of antibiotic resistant E. coli than influent wastewater and secondary treatment effluent. AMX resistant E. coli was enriched in return sludge at the secondary clarifier. Higher temperature was also likely to cause an increase of AMX resistant E. coli in sludge. The antibiotic resistance profile of E. coli in secondary treatment effluent was more dependent on activated sludge than influent wastewater. These results suggested that activated sludge in WWTP possibly serves as a reservoir of ARB, and that behavior of ARB in WWTP differs by antibiotic classes.

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