This is actually happening in the Great Lakes region because of wastewater treatment plants. The problem is that the fish behavior will now change and so will the ecosystems. Will the fish feel like eating? Will they eat too much?
Read on to find out exactly what’s happening in the Great Lakes and the potential damage that could occur. — Global Animal
Daily Mail, Cecile Borkhataria
New research has revealed that human antidepressants are building up in the brains of bass, walleye and other fish common to the Great Lakes region.
High concentrations of these drugs were detected in the brain tissue of 10 fish species in the Niagara River.
Researchers say that ingredients from antidepressants are coming out from wastewater treatment plants, accumulating in fish brains and potentially affecting their their feeding behavior and survival instincts.
The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, was conducted at the Niagara River, which connects two of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, via Niagara Falls.
The discovery of antidepressants in aquatic life in the river raises serious environmental concerns, says lead author of the study Dr Diana Aga, a Professor of Chemistry in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences.
‘These active ingredients from antidepressants, which are coming out from wastewater treatment plants, are accumulating in fish brains,’ Dr Aga says.
‘It is a threat to biodiversity, and we should be very concerned.
‘These drugs could affect fish behavior.
‘We didn’t look at behavior in our study, but other research teams have shown that antidepressants can affect the feeding behavior of fish or their survival instincts.
‘Some fish won’t acknowledge the presence of predators as much.’
Dr Randolph Singh, a co-author of the study, says that if changes like these occur in the wild, they have the potential to disrupt the delicate balance between species that help to keep the ecosystem stable.
‘The levels of antidepressants found do not pose a danger to humans who eat the fish, especially in the US, where most people do not eat organs like the brain,’ Dr Singh says.
‘However, the risk that the drugs pose to biodiversity is real, and scientists are just beginning to understand what the consequences might be.’
The study looked for a range of pharmaceutical and personal care product chemicals in the organs and muscles of 10 fish species: smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rudd, rock bass, white bass, white perch, walleye, bowfin, steelhead and yellow perch.
It found that antidepressants were a major problem: These drugs and their metabolites (byproducts) were found in the brains of all ten of the fish species studied.
In particular, the highest concentration of a single compound was found in a rock bass, which had 400 nanograms of norsertraline per gram of brain tissue.
Norsertraline is a metabolite of sertraline – the active ingredient in Zoloft, a drug that is used to treat depression, OCD, PTSD and other mental health disorders.
This was in addition to many other compounds found in the same fish, including citalopram, the active ingredient in Celexa (an anti-depression drug), and norfluoxetine, a metabolite of the active ingredient in Prozac and Sarafem, which treat depression, OCD, bulimia, and panic disorder.
More than half of the fish brain samples has norsetraline levels of 100 nanograms per gram or higher, and many of the fish had a medley of other antidepressant drugs and metabolites in their brains.
Evidence that antidepressants can change fish behavior generally comes from laboratory studies that expose the animals to higher concentrations of drugs than what is found in the Niagara River.
But still, the researchers say that the findings of the study are worrisome because the antidepressants that Dr Aga’s team detected in fish brains had accumulated over time, often reaching concentrations that were many times higher than the levels in the river.
For example, in the brains of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, white bass and walleye, sertraline was detected at levels that were about 20 or more times higher than levels in the river.
And levels of norsertraline, the drug’s breakdown byproduct, were even greater, reaching concentrations that were hundreds of times higher than those in the river.
While the findings are worrisome, Dr Aga says that researchers have not yet done enough to understand what amount of antidepressants poses a risk to animals, or how multiple drugs might interact synergistically to influence behavior, Dr Aga says.
Dr Aga has spent her career developing techniques for detecting contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and endocrine disrupters in the environment.
This is a field of growing concern, particularly in light of the fact that the use of these chemicals is expanding.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of Americans taking antidepressants has risen 65 per cent between 1999 and 2002, and 2011-2014.
Dr Aga says that wastewater treatment facilities have not kept pace with this growth, ignoring these drugs which are then released into the environment.
In general, wastewater treatment focuses narrowly on killing disease-causing bacteria and on extracting solid matter such as human excrement.
But antidepressants, which are found in the urine of people who use the drugs, are largely ignored, along with other worrisome chemicals that have become common.
‘These plants are focused on removing nitrogen, phosphorus, and dissolved organic carbon but there are so many other chemicals that are not prioritized that impact our environment,’ says Dr Aga.
‘As a result, wildlife is exposed to all of these chemicals.
‘Fish are receiving this cocktail of drugs 24 hours a day, and we are now finding these drugs in their brains.’
Dr Singh says that the problem is exacerbated by sewage overflows that funnel large amounts of untreated water into rivers and lakes.
Since May 2017, for example, a half billion gallons of combined sewage and storm water had flowed into local waterways, including the Niagara River.