STUDY: Antidepressants found in brains of fish in Niagara River


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – UB researchers have found human anti-depressants in the brains of bass, walleye, and several other fish in the Niagara River.

A press release put out Tuesday by UB states that a new study has detected high concentrations of those drugs and their metabolized remnants in the brain tissue of ten fish species found in the Niagara River.

The discovery of antidepressants in aquatic life in the river raises serious environmental concerns, says lead scientist Diana Aga, PhD, the Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences.

“These active ingredients from antidepressants, which are coming out from wastewater treatment plants, are accumulating in fish brains,” Aga says. “It is a threat to biodiversity, and we should be very concerned.”

Wastewater treatment facilities have failed to keep pace with the growth of Americans taking anti-depressant drugs, which has risen 65 percent between 1999 and 2002 and 2011-2014, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Treatment plants typically ignore these drugs, which are then released into the environment, Aga says.

Antidepressants or their metabolites were found in the brains of every fish species the scientists studied.

Aga added that the drugs could affect fish behavior, although the researchers didn’t look at behavior in the study. Other studies have shown that antidepressants can affect fish feeding behavior or their survival instincts, causing them to not acknowledge predators as a threat.

Study co-author Randolph Singh, PhD, a recent UB graduate from Aga’s lab, said  that if changes like these occur in the wild, they have the potential to disrupt the delicate balance between species that helps to keep the ecosystem stable. 

The levels of anti-depressant found don’t pose a danger to humans who eat the fish, especially in the U.S. where most people don’t eat organs like the brain, Singh said.

“However, the risk that the drugs pose to biodiversity is real, and scientists are just beginning to understand what the consequences might be,” Singh added.

The entire study can be found here.


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