Human antidepressants are building up in the brains of bass, walleye and ten different species of fish in the Great Lakes, scientists say.
The drugs, detected in a study conducted by chemists at the University at Buffalo, leak into rivers and lakes from waste treatment plants and sewage overflows, and could be a threat to aquatic life, scientists say.
As consumption of the drugs increase, antidepressant molecules are being leaked into the wild. The fish tested in the study, caught from the Niagara River, were found to have several different types of antidepressants in their brain tissue, including the active ingredients in Prozac, Zoloft and Sarafem.
The levels of pharmaceuticals detected in the fish is alarming, said Diana Aga, a lead scientist of the study and University at Buffalo professor of chemistry, adding that it could be a threat to biodiversity.
The researchers said the problem could be greatly reduced by improving outdated technology in sewage treatment plants.
“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,” Aga said. “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 brain.”
Accidents where untreated sewage ends up in natural waterways are making matters worse. In August, The Buffalo News reported that since May 2017, a half billion gallons of combined sewage and storm water had flowed into local waterways, including the Niagara River.
The researchers have said they don’t yet have a full understanding of the drugs’ effects on the fish. They say it’s possible fish behavior could be affected, including feeding and survival instincts.