Monday, April 4, 2016

Headline of the Day So Far

From the inimitable Tamara, who needs a link from me about as much as West Texas needs another grain of sand (but it's the polite thing to do).
Salmon Caught Near Seattle Are Full Of Cocaine And Antidepressants
which, I've gotta tell you, is just the thing to read about a 15 minutes after having a baked salmon dinner.  No, I don't think it was from Washington.  It was supposed to be from Alaska.  Small comfort when talking about species that swim thousands of miles.

The story says,
Apparently, samples taken from the [Puget Sound] water showed high levels of Prozac, bug spray, cocaine, Zantac, ibuprofen and 77 other drugs. These drugs littered not only the water but also the tissue of juvenile chinook salmon.

The samples, taken from the water near sewage treatment plants in the estuaries of the Seattle area, were collected over two days in September 2014.[Note added: SiG]
It's primarily the job of the municipal sewer treatment plants to remove things like that.  I'm sure some amount of drugs could be present in water runoff from spills on the land.  I'm equally sure that bug spray would be more common than drugs like ibuprofen or cocaine in stormwater runoff.  The vast majority is probably coming from human waste.  That has to either be removed by the action of the bacteria at the heart of a sewage treatment facility, or it would have to be removed by some sort of chemicals added to the water during treatment (which, in turn, have to be removed later during treatment).  As Betsey Cooper, administrator from the Wastewater Treatment Division in Washington's King County, told the Seattle Times, "not everything goes away". 

I did a quick lookup of the lifecycle of the Chinook salmon in order to make sure I'm not way off base here.  They're born in freshwater streams in the area and live in those streams for as much as 18 months before moving down into the Puget Sound, where they can spend another few months before moving out to sea.  If they're getting that drug cocktail while in the Puget Sound, they could be absorbing it for as much as six months.  An average of three to four years later, they return to the same streams to spawn passing through the Sound again.  An interesting question to me would be whether or not fish retain those chemicals in their body tissues when they're in the open ocean.
Maybe you can get your Prozac and Zantac at the same time you have your lox? 


  1. Pssst. Hey man, I got some sockeye here, un-cut!

  2. If you follow the trail of articles far enough to find actual numbers, you find that the actual drug concentrations are incredibly small;
    here is the EPA study that provided a national reference (I haven't yet found actual numbers for the Seattle study referenced in the articles):
    The highest concentration of a drug was 5300ng/L - they are measuring nanogramms per 1000 grams, concentrations measuring 10x-9 to 10-6, or parts per billion to parts per million.
    Just because these concentrations are measurable doesn't mean they are a problem!
    Even the study itself says there isn't a problem:
    "Estimates of potential risks to healthy human adults were greatest for six anti-hypertensive APIs (lisinopril, hydrochlorothiazide, valsartan, atenolol, enalaprilat, and metoprolol), but nevertheless suggest risks of exposure to individual APIs as well as their mixtures are generally very low. Estimates of potential risks to aquatic life were also low for most APIs, but suggest more detailed study of potential ecological impacts from four analytes (sertraline, propranolol, desmet
    hylsertraline, and valsartan). "

    1. One of the most egregious problems of the Internet is there isn't a sarcasm font, so that when we read each other we can't tell if we're goofing around. You couldn't tell I was being facetious, and I can't tell if you are. Since we don't know each other, that makes it even harder.

      Rest assured I know that the doses can't be high enough to be therapeutic to a salmon that weighs a few ounces, let alone to a 150 lb. adult human. Rest assured that I know that if concentrations were that high, someone would have figured out a way to be "mining" the Puget Sound for cocaine.

  3. "If you follow the trail of articles far enough to find actual numbers, you find that the actual drug concentrations are incredibly small"

    Yes, but that's not very funny. ;)

    This is practically a non-issue unless you live on an entirely Puget sound salmon diet.

    1. Just another reason for me to yawn and hit people. (My wife is still laughing at that post).

    2. My retort is aimed a the reporters who breathlessly treat this as a huge new problem when it is virtually undetectable and has been around for years.
      In any area with industry, there are much higher concentrations of much nastier chemicals than the pharmaceuticals discussed here.

  4. The real story is how many people have to be using ENORMOUS amounts of drugs for ANY amount of drugs to show up in a 100 trillion gallon fish tank, that is open to the Pacific at one end.---Ray

  5. The measurement was close to the outlet of sewage treatment plants. Sadly that is the reality. Sewage treatment can reduce some contaminants and it can convert biological material into harmless residue but it cannot make most chemical disappear. On the other side of this is that today we can identify something as dilute as 1 part per billion (and in some cases 1 part per trillion). contaminants have always been in our water and food but now we are more aware of what and how much. But it all must be kept in perspective and generally articles like the one cited avoid keeping anything in perspective and lean towards sensationalism. I would be in favor of ending the dumping of treated sewage into rivers and the ocean but for large cities this would create a massive challenge.

  6. For any amount of drugs to be detectable after solar, chemical, thermal, and bacterial breakdown, and after passing through a treatment plant and entering The Sound. Then to be found in detectable amounts in a migratory fish, means that they(drugs) are entering the water cycle in metric tons. That was my point. That the people in one American city were more drugged than the entire population of Japan is stunning. --Ray

  7. Ray - the fact that we can detect PPB or PPT levels of contaminants makes it hard (for me) to compare, but it sure seems like it must be a lot of those drugs making it into the water supply.

    The caution is that I don't have any reference to compare to, so I don't know if that sort of study was done in San Francisco Bay, or the Chesapeake, or Tokyo, or (fill in the blank) that the numbers would be better or worse. It requires far more knowledge of the stability of those compounds than I have for me to have an opinion.

    1. The EPA study I mentioned compares the outflow of 50 of the largest sewage plants in the USA; if I read the numbers right, Seattle is more or less in line with other big cities.
      I have in the past read articles looking at London's outflow of pharmaceuticals, particularly anti-depressants, and they are much worse than what the EPA found here in the US.

    2. Cool. Thanks for the update. (My remark above was a reference to one of Tam's posts from the other day. Again, trying to be jocular.)