Blackwell on Health: Even the fish are on Prozac

January 21, 2011

There is more evidence of the impact that society’s ever-growing dependence on pharmaceutical products is having on the environment. A new study from the University of Montreal found deposits of anti-depressants in brook trout taken from the St. Lawrence River, the drugs having apparently entered the waterway through the sewage treatment system. And experiments suggested that there was enough of the medications to affect the fish’s brains.

There is a growing body of research on what happens to left-over or digested pharmaceuticals once they are flushed or rinsed down the drain, and eventually wind up in our rivers and lakes. The consensus to date is that the amounts detected are too tiny to have any impact on humans. Dr. Sébastien Sauvé, a University of Montreal chemistry professor and the study’s lead author, noted that the traces of anti-depressant he and colleagues found in the St. Lawrence were equivalent to a grain of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and would only be an issue anyway if someone drank water or ate fish from the river.

Traces of the selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs were found, however, in the liver, brain and muscles of the trout, who, of course, live, eat and sleep in that water. Testing revealed it was enough to affect the animals’ brains, though it is not clear if the medication would be harmful over the long run. More research is needed to answer that question, said Dr. Sauvé, who noted:

We are seeing an impact on the river’s ecosystem, which should concern cities everywhere.

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