Puget Sound fish are testing positive for a variety of drugs including cocaine, Prozac, Advil, Benadryl and even Lipitor. Sound a little fishy-well, it isn’t. The drug polluted water in the Puget Sound seems to be the result of improperly treated discharge water.
Estuary waters tested near the sewage treatment plants contained a mixture of up to 81 different drugs according to a study released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This indicates that Pharmaceutical pollution could be the culprit for the many drugs showing up in tissue of young Chinook salmon.
There are several theories as to why the Puget Sound has such a high concentration of drugs in the water. One theory is that people living around the Puget Sound use more of the drugs detected in the fish. The second theory is that the problem is how the waste water is being treated.
Salmon are considered to be an indicator species. This means that they are especially sensitive to changes in their living conditions and they provide a strong warning system for environmental problems.
The leaching of human drugs into rivers is causing problems for the fish. The problem in the Puget Sound is not an isolated event. In the drug polluted waters of the Potomac river they are finding intersex fish. Scientists think these intersex fish are the result of estrogen from birth control and menopause medications getting into the water.
According to a study from Scientific American, when perch were placed in a clean water supply they were less aggressive than perch exposed to anti anxiety drugs (benzodiazepines) such as Valium, or Xanax. The fish exposed to the anti-anti-anxiety drugs explored more dangerous territory, ate faster and put themselves into riskier situations. Although braver fish may not look like a problem changes in fish behavior can have a detrimental effect on the ecosystem. For example, if perch eat faster then they will deplete more zooplankton at a faster rate. This in turn will result in less zooplankton to eat algae and that can cause algae blooms. If the fish put themselves in more dangerous situations their numbers can be threatened.
All of these drugs get into the water supply in different ways. Some people may dump old or leftover medications down the toilet and in other cases drugs may not be fully absorbed by the body and get excreted in the urine that also goes down the toilet. Sewage treatment plants do not properly filter out the effluent and then the drugs leach into the rivers and oceans.
The Environmental Protection Agency is adding various pharmaceuticals to their watch list of potentially harmful contaminants for investigation. The World Health Organization is asking water treatment plants to find ways of improving their waste water treatment to remove drugs and contaminants from effluent water.
As in individual you can help by not flushing any medications down the toilet or a drain. Instead look for a drug take back program in your area. Your local pharmacist can help direct you to a take back program.