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Antidepressant drugs ending up in brains of Great Lakes' fish: Study

02 September 2017

New research by the University of Buffalo reveals that antidepressant drugs are ending up in the brains of several Great Lakes fish species' brains. The drugs get into the fish from small amounts excreted into people's toilets, moving through the wastewater treatment process to lakes and rivers.

High concentrations of both active ingredients and metabolites- byproducts of the parent drug of popular antidepressant pharmaceuticals, including Zoloft, Prozac, Celexa and Sarafem were found in the brains of fish caught in the Niagara River connecting Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

Among the affected species are smallmouth and largemouth bass, rudd, rock bass, white bass, white and yellow perch, walleye, bowfin and steelhead. While the concentrations were not harmful to humans eating the fish, they still posed problems, according to University at Buffalo chemistry professor Diana Aga, the lead author of the study published on 16 August in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

"It is a threat to biodiversity, and we should be very concerned," she said, Detroit Free Press reported.

Research conducted earlier has shown antidepressants in water create "suicidal shrimp" they tend to move toward light instead of away from it, which made them vulnerable to predator fish and birds, Aga said.

"Other research teams have shown that antidepressants can affect the feeding behavior of fish, or their survival instincts," Aga said. "Some fish won't acknowledge the presence of predators as much."

"These active ingredients from antidepressants, which are coming out from wastewater treatment plants, are accumulating in fish brains," said Aga, in a statement released by the University of Buffalo, where the research was conducted.

The exposure to the chemicals happens due to contamination of the river's water by wastewater from treatment plants. The plants generally focus on killing disease-causing bacteria and removing solid waste, but antidepressants, which are found in the urine of people, are mostly overlooked and not removed from the wastewater, according to Aga.

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