Antidepressants found in brains of Great Lakes fish

Photo by Rostislav Stefanek/Shutterstock

A new study has released some depressing news: high concentrations of anti-depressant ingredients and their byproducts have been found in the brains of fish from the Great Lakes.

Published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, the research found human pharmaceuticals or their metabolized remnants in the brains of 10 fish species in the Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

“It’s a threat to biodiversity, and we should be very concerned,” said lead scientist Diana Aga, in an interview with the news center at the University at Buffalo, where she works as a chemistry professor. “These drugs could affect fish behaviour.”

Aga notes that while this study analyzed the levels of anti-depressants in the Niagara River, other research has shown that the pharmaceuticals can impact the feeding behaviour or their survival instincts. “Some fish won’t acknowledge the presence as predators as much.”

The pharmaceuticals are entering the Niagara River through wastewater treatment facilities, which are not properly equipped to filter out the drugs. Wastewater treatment primarily focuses on eliminating bacteria that can cause disease and extracting solid matters, such as human excrement. Anti-depressants are entering the waterways via human urine.

“These [treatment facilities] are focused on removing nitrogen, phosphorus and dissolved organic carbon but there are many other chemicals that not prioritized that impact our environment,” Aga says. “As a result, wildlife is exposed to all of these chemicals. Fish are receiving this cocktail of drugs 24 hours a day.”

The study found that anti-depressants had accumulated over time in the brains of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rudd, rock bass, white bash, white perch, walleye, bowfin, steelhead and yellow perch.

Researchers say that people who eat fish from the area shouldn’t be concerned about the potential danger of ingesting these chemicals, since most people do not eat fish organs like the brains.

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