NYS Exposed: Study finds mood-altering drugs in local fish

September 12, 2017 09:47 AM

Suicidal shrimp, rogue walleye: A new study finds fish are behaving badly. And, the study says, it's all because of what they're being exposed to in our local water.

It's hard to say suicidal shrimp without laughing. But researchers at the University of Buffalo and Buffalo State say the drugs humans are taking are taking a toll on wildlife.


"We come here a lot," says Rick Chmiel, fisherman. "It seems to be best onshore spot to catch a decent fish."

Chmiel normally throws back what he catches from the Niagara River but this new study has peaked his curiosity.

He says, "I'm sure you're going to find all types of different stuff in this water."

Initially, researchers were fishing too when it came to finding out what drugs lurked in our local waterways.

"We actually looked at all sorts of pharmaceuticals but what came out at high concentrations are the anti-depressants," says Dr. Diana Aga, professor of chemistry, University at Buffalo.

It's estimated nearly 13 percent of Americans over the age of 12 take Zoloft, Prozac or another mood-enhancing drug and the active ingredients are making their way through sewage treatment plants and into our lakes and rivers.

"It's mostly excretion from humans that consume anti-depressants," says Dr. Aga. "It doesn't matter where we collected the fish samples, they have almost the same amount of anti-depressants in their brain so that means they're getting it as they move along the river and there's no clean area."

And we're talking all kinds of fish: Smallmouth and largemouth bass, rock bass, white and yellow perch, walleye, just to name a few.

Jennifer Lewke: "Do the fish you catch seem happier than normal?"

Chmiel: "No, but when I catch them, I seem a little happier!"

We laugh, but long-term this could be a big issue because studies show that these kind of drugs can make fish act differently.

"You have to wonder how long is the environment going to support us if the water is so contaminated that the fish are kind of not behaving normally," says Alicia Perez-Fuentetaja, biology professor at Buffalo State. "They’re not mating. They're exposing themselves to lights and predators. They're dying and they don't care."

So, what do we do? Those who need the drugs can't just stop taking them or stop going to the bathroom. Researchers say there needs to be more focus on the issue. "What are the things we can do in the wastewater treatment plants to optimize removal of these chemicals."

The researchers are working with water treatment plants right now to test some systems that might help but that's still a ways off. In the meantime, environmentalists are pushing pharmaceutical companies to design medications to biodegrade quicker.


Jennifer Lewke

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