The ongoing opioid epidemic has resulted in the deaths of thousands of people in the U.S. and Canada. But it’s not just affecting humans — a recent study revealed the detrimental consequences our drug crisis is creating for our aquatic wildlife.
This past winter, a team of researchers from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife released clean, healthy mussels into the waters of Washington’s Puget Sound. When they retrieved these same mussels three months after the fact and tested for contaminants, the results were unsettling: The mussels had picked up traces of oxycodone as well as chemotherapy drugs, antidepressants, antibiotics, and heart medications.
How did this slew of nasty pharmaceuticals get into the water? According to lead study biologist Jennifer Lanksbury, chances are they were flushed down the toilet or excreted by humans, and wastewater management systems did not effectively filter them out before the water made its way to the ocean.
Although mussels probably don’t metabolize the drugs since they are filter feeders, the chemicals floating around in the water may have larger implications for other species in the area. “Things like, they can affect the growth of organisms, their hormone systems, their ability to reproduce,” Lanksbury cited as the potential consequences of opioids and other drugs for marine life.
The tested mussels became contaminated a good distance away from commercial shellfish beds, but as we know, pollution spreads quickly throughout our oceans and can end up in the bellies of sea creatures who dwell in even the deepest waters. According to a recent study from the University of Ghent, people who consume seafood regularly ingest about 11,000 pieces of plastic in the process each year, largely thanks to our society’s love of disposable plastics.
When you consider the long list of potentially hazardous substances that have been found in aquatic animals, staying away from seafood seems like the best move for your own personal health. Aside from keeping tiny pieces of plastic and random chemicals from going into your body, reducing your seafood consumption will also help protect our oceans’ delicate ecosystems, which are currently being jeopardized by reckless fishing methods.
If nothing else, this study is a reminder that we are all connected in our ecological web, and while we might not be able to control how our medications make their way into the water supply, we CAN help to reduce other forms of pollution like plastic. To learn more about how you can protect ocean health by lessening your plastic usage, check out One Green Planet’s #CrushPlastic campaign.
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