Down Under: Traces of Antidepressant Drugs Found in Niagara River Fish

Research shows presence of antidepressants can affect survival instincts of fish and their ability to reproduce

The Niagara River separating the United States and Canada. Researchers found 22 different drugs and their by-products in the bodies of fish in the river.
The Niagara River separating the United States and Canada. Researchers found 22 different drugs and their by-products in the bodies of fish in the river. CHRIS HELGREN/REUTERS

Fish are paying the price for the rising use of antidepressants among Americans, according to a study released last week.

According to the study published in Environmental Science & Technology, traces of antidepressant drugs have been found in the bodies of fish populating large American lakes, which could change their behavior and hurt their ability to reproduce.

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The study was conducted in the Niagara River, which connects Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, on the border between the United States and Canada. Sewage containing traces of drugs flows into the river from treatment plants in adjacent towns and cities.

The scientists tested the water and examined fish from the river, and found traces of 22 different drugs and their by-products in their bodies. Many of the drugs were antidepressants.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans’ use of antidepressants has risen by some 400 percent over the past two decades.

Past studies conducted in controlled lab conditions have found that traces of antidepressants have a negative impact on fish behavior.

The drugs undermine fish development and reproduction, and hurt their ability to catch prey.

In some studies, fish experienced reduced cortisol levels, which slowed down their reactions under threat.

According to the latest study, pollution in the Niagara River is causing animals to stop behaving according to their survival instincts. The increasing dependence on drugs requires the examination of new ways to prevent them from reaching bodies of water, the study found.

Some of the fish examined in the Niagara River are fished for human consumption. Researchers have yet to find health issues caused by eating fish that contain traces of drugs, but this is a relatively new field of research. It’s only in recent years that health and environment authorities have become aware of its significance.