A new three-year study reports that pharmaceuticals are filling the ocean, causing fish to consume the substances and become literally filled with drugs.
Scientists at Florida International University and the Bonefish and Tarpon Trust (BTT) analyzed 93 different fish off the coast of Florida and each one had drugs of some sort in its system. The average fish had seven different prescription drugs found throughout their body — some as many as 16.
“We found pharmaceuticals everywhere and there was no place where basically a fish could be unexposed to pharmaceuticals and that was a surprise,” Nick Castillo told a local CBS affiliate in South Florida.
Castillo added that just as these drugs cause changes in humans, they could also be affecting the behavior of fish.
“So it could be making a fish more bold, they’ll take risks. They can get eaten more frequently. It can affect their reproduction,” Castillo added.
Dr. Jennifer Rehage, the lead researcher for the study, also told the media that the fish from all kinds of habitats are impacted by the pollution.
“Areas that we perceive as pristine and beautiful, and the water is clear and turquoise and there’s fish swimming; they are contaminated,” Rehage explained.
The drugs end up in the ocean, in part, because prescription medications are not fully processed out of human waste, which is released into the sewage system. That waste is then sent to treatment plants, which cannot properly remove the pharmaceutical substances, and the drug-filled water is released into the ocean.
“So we don’t have the right equipment and the right legislation, the rules, the treatment, and it’s escalating and it’s exploding right in front of our faces,” Rehage said in reference to what can be done about the problem.
Rehage added, “These findings are truly alarming. Pharmaceuticals are an invisible threat, unlike algal blooms or turbid waters. Yet these results tell us that they are a formidable threat to our fisheries, and highlight the pressing need to address our longstanding wastewater infrastructure issues.”
Adding to the problem, Boca Magazine pointed out that the federal Food and Drug Administration seems to encourage Americans to dispose of various drugs by flushing them down the toilet.
“According to the Food and Drug Administration website, the best way to dispose of drugs is to find a drug take back site near you and drop them off,” Boca Magazine reported. “Disturbingly, the FDA also has a ‘flush list’ of medications that are acceptable to flush down the toilet if unused and that ‘there has been no sign of environmental effects caused by flushing recommended drugs.’ This list includes narcotics such as Fentanyl patches and Vicodin.”
In 2018, researchers in Washington state also found that mussels off the coast of Washington had traces of oxycodone throughout their system.
“Oxycodone is in the news right now, but there are a number of other pharmaceutical products that we found,” biologist Jennifer Lanksbury, who led the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife study, told an NPR affiliate at the time. “The antibiotics, the anti-depressants, chemotherapy drugs, heart medications that we’re finding in mussels.”
Regarding the Florida study, BTT President and CEO Jim McDuffie told the media that the recent findings “underscore the urgent need for Florida to expand and modernize wastewater treatment facilities and sewage infrastructure statewide.”