Melissa Schultz on link between pharmaceutical waste and fish health

Antidepressants may benefit people, but they’re not much help to fish. That’s according to Melissa Schultz, an environmental chemist at the College of Wooster, in Ohio. She said that antidepressants and other medications we excrete and flush down the toilet are winding up in rivers, possibly harming wildlife.

Melissa Schultz: We’re just beginning to understand how these chemicals affect fish.

Schultz teamed up with biologists who exposed a group of farm-raised minnows to trace levels of antidepressants — in particular, to a drug known as Effexor — and then analyzed the results.

Melissa Schultz: At low levels, the levels we’re seeing in the environment, it can affect the young fish so they can’t respond as fast to stimuli. What that can translate to in the environment is perhaps a predator could come upon them and they’e not going to be able to react as fast and basically they’re going to end up being someone’s lunch.

Schultz thinks we can prevent this problem where it starts: in our toilets.

Melissa Schultz: Some ideas I’ve heard tossed around, which may seem kind of crazy, but ten years from now will be commonplace is to actually treat the waste in the toilet. It sounds kind of gross, but if you know you’re taking certain pharmaceuticals, they can actually be removed – you might have some sort of filter in your toilet so that they’re removed before that water even goes to the waste water treatment plant.

In the meantime, people can help preserve water quality by throwing unused medications in the trash, instead of flushing them.

Our thanks to:
Melissa Schultz
College of Wooster
Wooster, Ohio

Photo Credit: species snob

January 16, 2009

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