(WSVN) – We’ve all heard of the opioid epidemic, but a new study reveals those same drugs, and more, are seeping into the sea. What’s in the water? 7’s Karen Hensel shows us.
South Florida is famous for beautiful water, fun in the sun and some of the best fishing in the world.
But, the reality is, our paradise has a secret below the surface.
Dr. Aaron Adam, Director of Science and Conservation, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust: “Yeah, it’s very much a concern.”
Researchers from Florida International University and the Bonefish & Tarpon Trust teamed up to test bonefish from Biscayne Bay to the Florida Keys.
They tested 93 fish, and every single one was tainted with pharmaceuticals, including drugs like antidepressants, heart medications and painkillers.
Dr. Aaron Adams: “We weren’t surprised that there were pharmaceuticals in the fish, but the number really blew us away: seven on average per fish. That’s a pretty massive cocktail.”
A massive cocktail with a prescription for trouble.
Dr. Aaron Adams: “To find one fish that had, I think it was 17 pharmaceuticals in a single fish, I can’t even imagine the changes to the brain chemistry and the physiology of that fish. Imagine if you went to your pharmacist. First thing that pharmacist would do is look to see about interactions between those different medications. The bonefish don’t have that option.”
While you have to release any bonefish caught in Florida, the researchers believe the problem in the water is impacting other marine life as well.
Dr. Jennifer Rehage, FIU’s Coastal Fisheries Research Lab: “We sampled little crabs, little fish, and little pink shrimp in particular, the ones we actually eat from the bay, and we sampled those as well, and those had even more pharmaceuticals.”
So how is this happening?
When we take medication, what our bodies do not metabolize is flushed down the toilet to Florida’s old and outdated wastewater treatment plants.
Dr. Jennifer Rehage: “Those plants were designed in the ’60s and ’70s to deal with nutrients and human waste. They’re not designed to deal with these high-end pharmaceuticals.”
That means the drugs are not filtered out before flowing from the wastewater treatment plants to the ocean.
Dr. Jennifer Rehage: “We can also think about the human side, that we have all of these unknowns about what it means to get exposed to the pharmaceuticals for long periods of time at low dosages. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be exposed to these medications without choice.”
The concern is not just for human health but also for Florida’s economic health.
Saltwater recreational fishing reels in $9.2 billion a year for the state.
Dr. Aaron Adams: “Many of the pharmaceuticals that are in these bonefish, they affect behavior, and that behavior will have repercussions. They probably get eaten by predators more frequently. It might affect their migrations for spawning.”
Dr. Jennifer Rehage: “Our goal was not to alarm people but to get the word out that this is another aspect of water quality.”
So what about the Florida fish we do eat?
The researchers say they are certain that when they test other fish, they will find pharmaceuticals. The question is, how many different drugs and at what level?
For more information of FIU and Bonefish & Tarpon Trust’s study, click here.
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