Juvenile Pacific Chinook salmon living in estuaries near wastewater treatment plants in Washington tested positive for 81 different drugs and personal care products, of which 29 are Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs), local researchers report. The substances include drugs like Lipitor, Prozac, Valium, OxyContin, Flonase, Tylenol, Paxil, Zoloft, and Benadryl, as well as other substances including caffeine, nicotine, antiseptics, anticoagulants, assorted antibiotics, and even cocaine.
The samples were gathered over the course of two days in September 2014. While some of the chemicals were found only in the estuary water, others were found to be present in the actual flesh of the Chinook salmon.
Jim Meador, an environmental toxicologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, said that the presence of the drugs, which he estimates at several kilograms per estuary per day, could either be due to an increased usage of these drugs in the area or to the processes of the wastewater treatment plants.
“You have treatment doing its best to remove these, chemically and biologically, but it’s not just the treatment quality, it’s also the amount that we use day to day and our assumption that it just goes away,” Betsy Cooper, a Wastewater Treatment Division permit administrator told the Seattle Times. “But not everything goes away.”
Levels were reportedly even higher in many of the largest wastewater treatment plants nation wide, according to studies conducted by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. In samples sourced in 50 large municipal wastewater treatment plants, hydrochlorothiazide (Aquazide) was found in every sample, and metoprolol (Lopressor), atenolol (Tenormin), and carbamazepine (Epitol) were found in over 90 percent of samples.
This news is even more concerning given that most of these chemicals and drugs are not monitored in wastewater.
While the water and salmon will not be consumed by humans, officials are concerned about the effects of these drugs on the salmon themselves and on the surrounding ecosystem.
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Salmon image via Shutterstock