Pharma fish found

There has been more talk recently that our wastewater are loaded with pharmaceuticals. No surprise. People often dump out of date pills down the toilet, but much more important, they send them flushing in by excreting them. That's wastewater, though, not drinking water. They do get into drinking water, too, but at much lower levels. Now the EPA and collaborators at Baylor University have found another pathway to humans. Fish:

Fish from 5 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 2 types of antidepressants were among the 7 types of pharmaceuticals found in the tissue and livers of fish from waterways in or near Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Orlando, Florida. Each river is considered "effluent-dominated," because they receive large amounts of wastewater discharge from nearby sewage treatment plants. (US News; h/t ProMed)

There were a lot of potent drugs in these fish, including drugs for blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, bipolar disorder, epilepsy and ingredients of various personal care products. This raises at least two big questions. The first is the effect on the fish and the non-human food chain they are part of. Many of these pharmaceuticals are reproductive and developmental poisons or dysregulators. There has been little study of the effects on wildlife of medicines in the environment -- pharmaco-ecology. The other big question relates to the top of the food chain, humans. Is it plausible that the intake of pharmaceuticals via drinking water or food is harmful? Is this a public health problem?

At first blush, this would seem unlikely. The doses obtained this way would be very low, probably many orders of magnitude below the therapeutic doses. On the other hand there is a great deal we have to learn about some possible effects. For example, could a steady low-dose of a class of pharmaceuticals induce enzymes to detoxify them. The higher rate of enzymatic activity might then affect other systems (e.g., drugs taken for treatment), possibly altering their time action curve or other kinetic feature. If I had to put money on it, I'd probably bet that this is not much of a risk, but in truth I really don't know. It doesn't seem impossible to me.

The FDA doesn't take into account the environmental impact of the drugs it approves. Are they metabolized into something more harmful? Do they pass through sewage treatment facilities? Is there any risk via the environmental route? Maybe it's time for the FDA to begin to think about it. It's well known that most of most drugs is excreted, one reason Americans have the most valuable urine in the world.

This story may depress you, but don't worry about the fish. They are also full of Zoloft and Prozac. They could care less.

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Revere, didn't you mean the opposite to what you actually wrote plus a suggestion: "This story may depress you, but don't worry about the fish. They are also full of Zoloft and Prozac. They [couldn't] care less [and if you eat one with a high enough tissue SSRI concentration, neither will you]."!?!

By Jonathon Singleton (not verified) on 02 Apr 2009 #permalink

I live next to the Mississippi River and I've talked with several locals who won't eat fish caught from the river. They have suspicions about what the river fish may have absorbed from the water, especially after a flood year, when upstream sewage systems basically shut down and dump raw sewage into the river.

Large Asian carp have become common in the Mississippi. I've talked with two people who have been violently struck by one of those carp leaping into a fishing boat. Perhaps the fish were over-stimulated by methamphetamine flushed down a toilet during a police raid? Just kidding, but you do have to wonder about what's in the local fish...

Point of order and pet peeve, the phrase "could care less" means they care. Being able to care less means you have care you could give up.

The wording your looking for, IMHO, is: They couldn't care less.

Interesting to hear about this from a public health perspective.

From a fish health perspective, it's clear that low levels of pollution can matter. One example is the finding that low levels of pesticides harm the ability of salmon to smell and thus probably reduce the ability of fish to migrate to their natal streams in order to spawn.

We'll likely find effects from these drugs if we ever do the studies to look for effects.

Mark: Although from a fish perspective, these aren't low levels. That isn't to say that lower levels wouldn't be a problem, but the exposure of fish is much higher than the exposures of humans from fish.

I wonder what the homeopaths think about these dosage levels (grin)

By Hank Roberts (not verified) on 03 Apr 2009 #permalink

Hank: Well, the saying that the solution to pollution is dilution sounds kind of homeopathic to me.

For one, I would like to welcome our Fish overlords.

Yes, fishes overlords.

Because, fishes exist are not (only) for human beings. If no fish to eat zooplanktons, then phytoplankton will boom and, the river and the ocean all die.

We, human beings like to eat fish- have to go hunting in the sea. Wait for a while, preferably less older fishes. Tuna, 9 years old perhaps not so safe for pregnant women- the longer life, the higher heavy ions it accumulates.

Smaller fish looks bony. Eating with chopsticks is easier. Why not keep two sets of dining picks in your kitchen. Japanese use both and are healthier people; they eat a lot of fishes and seafood. They are less Alzheimerâs for sure.

Then, if you still have doubt about fish for food. Just like me, eat shrimp and abalone. Because, I am now a shrimp and abalone grower. : -)

"If no fish to eat zooplanktons, then phytoplankton will boom and, the river and the ocean all die."

Oh, no. Zooplantons will boom and eat up phytoplantons and all die.