As scientists spend more time looking into contaminated water from pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and other common chemicals, we’re finding more and more ways that humans hurt the plants and animals around them. Seriously, have you ever heard a study that came back with proof that our drugs or cleaners are helping the environment? Me neither. So let’s look at one more way we’re letting Mother Nature down.
Swedish researchers subjected fish to different concentrations of a common anti-anxiety drug, Oxazepam. Traces of the drug had a pronounced effect on the fish used in the study, wild European perch. The fish were more active, less social, and fed quicker than fish who swam in clear, clean water. All of these changes could greatly impact feeding patterns and change the way entire ecosystems operate.
The study was conducted in Sweden, but American ecologists believe that the research could have a local effect and should be considered carefully. While the levels of Oxazepam the tested fish were swimming in have not been found in nature at this point in time, scientists warn that it is extremely difficult to understand the exact levels of chemical contamination in the Earth’s waterways. Everything from temperature to location to season can change the results. More than that, different combinations of chemicals and different chemical structures can affect animals in varying ways.
As the New York Times reported,
In the Swedish study, researchers first tested perch in the wastewater-treated Fyris River, near the city of Uppsala, and found their muscle tissue contained six times the river’s concentration of Oxazepam.
Other drugs found in Sweden’s waters didn’t seem to be picked up by the fish as much. This specific drug concentrated itself in the fish’s muscle tissue, meaning that it could impact a greater number of fish at lower levels of concentration.
Dr. Tillitt, a toxicologist with the United States Geological Survey, said, “We’re smart enough and we should be able to design chemicals that fulfill these same sorts of functions but with less stress on the environment.” However, I think that he’s overlooking an important issue. Pharmaceutical company profits aren’t particularly concerned with environmental effects. In fact, pharmaceutical company profits are rarely even concerned with human extraneous costs. Getting them to worry about fish is most likely impossible.
The idea that drug companies are going to spend thousands, or even millions, on researching new drugs that don’t harm the world around them is pretty far-fetched. The more likely solution might be better water filtration, that doesn’t just remove bacteria and nutrients from water, but also attempts to wipe out chemical pollutants.
Either way, until something is done, we will likely continue to see research and real-world effects of human-made chemicals and drugs on the animals and plants that are accidentally exposed to them.