Scientists finding opioids and antibiotics in shellfish

Scientists finding opioids and antibiotics in shellfish

The shellfish are filter feeders who gain nourishment from their surroundings, while simultaneously absorbing whatever contaminants are also in the water - making them an ideal barometer for environmental scientists to test water pollution in a given area.

"Because we're finding them in mussels, that means these chemicals are present in the water, and that means they're likely affecting fish and other invertebrates in the water", Lanksbury said.

Scientists usually find chemical compounds in Puget Sound waters, ranging from pharmaceuticals to drugs such as cocaine, but this is the first time that opioids have been discovered in local shellfish, according to the Puget Sound Institute. Department of Fish and Wildlife regularly places mussels raised in controlled, pollution-free environments at 18 set locations around Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean.

Besides oxycodone, mussels tested this year showed levels of antidepressants, heart drugs, antibiotics and the common chemotherapy drug melphalan, which is a potential carcinogen.

The opioids ended up in the sound through human sewage which is processed by wastewater management systems that can't filter out drugs.

Scientists worked with the Puget Sound Institute to analyse the data and discovered three out of 18 locations came back positive for trace amounts of oxycodone.

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If you take legal or illegal drugs, or even flush them down the toilet unused, there's a good chance they'll wind up in Puget Sound.

James said that the mussels were found in highly urbanized areas, not commercial shellfish beds, and that seafood from the Puget Sound was safe to eat.

"What we eat and what we excrete goes into the Puget Sound". Scientists say salmon and other fish might have a similar response.

"It seems like the prescriptions for opioids are high enough that it's starting to come out in the waters here at least in the really you know, dense urban corridors", Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Jennifer Lanksbury told Global News.

Lanksbury said the research couldn't have been done without an army of citizen science volunteers who put the mussels out in low tide during the winter, and retrieved them three months later.

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