Antidepressants In Fish Brains Could Pose Risk To Great Lakes Ecosystem

Antidepressants In Fish Brains Could Pose Risk To Great Lakes Ecosystem

Study Finds High Levels Of Pharmaceuticals In Niagara River

The use of antidepressants among Americans has soared in recent years. Those medications are ending up in the Great Lakes, absorbed into the brains of fish, according to a new study from the University at Buffalo in New York.

"They’re mainly coming from effluents from wastewater treatment plants, and those are basically coming from our own homes," explains Diana Aga, lead scientist on the study.

The study looked at the brain tissue of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rudd, rock bass, white bass, white perch, walleye, bowfin, steelhead and yellow perch in the Niagara River, which connects two Great Lakes: Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. More than half of the samples "had norsertraline levels of 100 nanograms per gram or higher," according to a news release.

Norsertraline is a derivative of an active ingredient in popular antidepressants like Zoloft and Lustral.

Some of the pollution may come from the mismanagement of old pills, often flushed down the toilet, entering the waterways, she said. Increasingly, local drug "take back" programs have popped up across communities to reduce pollution through improper disposal of prescription medicines.

But according to Aga, much of the pollution also comes from human waste, such as urine, which makes its way into wastewater treatment plants and then into United States waterways.

Though sewage is treated before entering these waterways, current wastewater treatment systems do not remove antidepressants, Aga said.

"The main purpose of wastewater treatment plants is really to remove nitrogen," she said. "The system is designed to do that, but not to remove pharmaceuticals and other organic pollutants. And that includes antidepressants."