Lipitor, caffeine, nicotine, Prozac, Valium, OxyContin, and cocaine. Sounds like a good time, right? Probably not, if you’re a salmon swimming in the waters near the mouth of Blair Waterway in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay.
According to samples gathered over two days by environmental toxicologists in September 2014, those chemicals were but a few of the 29 Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs) detected in wastewater plants near estuaries inhabited by delicious Pacific salmon. What’s worse is that some chemicals were found not only in the waters but in the actual tissue of the fish, at concentrations that “may cause adverse effects.”
“The concentrations in effluent were higher than we expected,” Jim Meador told the Seattle Times. “We analyzed samples for 150 compounds and we had 61 percent of them detected in effluent. So we know these are going into the estuaries.”
Meador is an environmental toxicologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and the lead author of a study in an upcoming volume of the journal Environmental Pollution. “Our analysis revealed that overall CEC inputs to each estuary amount to several kilograms of these compounds per day,” the researchers found. If anything, Meador surmises that his study underreported the amount of drugs in the water that is “closer to outfall pipes, or in deeper water.” He also added that while the levels of contaminants are certainly cause for concern, the real culprit—whether it’s a higher rate of drug usage by nearby humans or simply inadequate wastewater treatment—remains unclear.
“You have treatment doing its best to remove these, chemically and biologically, but it’s not just the treatment quality, it’s also the amount that we use day to day and our assumption that it just goes away,” Betsy Cooper, a Wastewater Treatment Division permit administrator told the Seattle Times. “But not everything goes away.”
Other drugs found in sampled fish tissue and waters included Flonase, Tylenol, Paxil, Zoloft, antiseptics, anticoagulants, and “antibiotics galore.” This problem is hardly isolated to the Northwest. Last summer, waters in Southern Ontario were also found to contain trace amounts of cocaine, morphine, and oxycodone, reflecting not only human partying but possible piscine contamination.
By Nick Rose - Munchies Vice/Feb. 27, 2016
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