Fish in U.S. Rivers Tainted With Common Medications

THURSDAY March 26, 2009 -- Fish from five U.S. rivers were found to be tainted with traces of medications and common chemicals, according to a new study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Baylor University.

The common antihistamine diphenhydramine (Benadryl), an anticonvulsant and two types of antidepressants were among the seven types of pharmaceuticals found in the tissue and livers of fish from waterways in or near Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Orlando, Fla. Each river is considered "effluent-dominated," because they receive large amounts of wastewater discharge from nearby sewage treatment plants.

While federal standards exist for treated wastewater, they do not address pharmaceuticals or most personal care products, and little is known about the effects they have on the environment and wildlife. This study is part of a federal strategy to address the issue.

Previous research has concluded that behavior vital for fish survival, such as mating and fighting, can be affected if too much antidepressant residue collects in their systems.

While other studies have found pharmaceuticals and personal care products in wild river fish, this is the first time multiple compounds have been found in fish from several different locations, co-lead investigator Bryan Brooks, an associate professor of environmental sciences at Baylor, said in a news release issued by the Texas-based university.

The medications and chemicals found from among the 36 tested for were, aside from diphenhydramine:

  • the cholesterol drug gemfibrozil (Lopid), which researchers say had never before been found in wild fish;
  • diltiazem (Cardizem), a medication that helps control high blood pressure;
  • carbamazepine (Tegretol), a drug used for epilepsy and bipolar disorder;
  • norfluoxetine, an active ingredient in the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac);
  • the antidepressant sertraline (Zoloft);
  • galaxolide and tonalide, common odor-enhancing ingredients in soap and other hygiene products.

Galaxolide and tonalide were found in the highest concentrations in the fish tissue, while the others were more concentrated in the liver, which processes foreign substances that enter the body.

The study was presented Wednesday at the American Chemical Society annual meeting in Salt Lake City, while the results also are to be published in a special online edition of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.

More information

The U.S. Geologic Survey has more about toxins in wastewater.

Posted: March 2009


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