From left, Michael Caputo, Richard Ramsden and Stuart Munsch collect fish in a beach seine in the Puyallup estuary in September 2014. Photo: Andrew Yeh

By Lynda V. Mapes
23 February 2016

(Seattle Times) – Puget Sound salmon are on drugs: Prozac, Advil, Benadryl, Lipitor, even cocaine.

Those drugs and dozens of others are showing up in the tissues of juvenile chinook, researchers have found, thanks to tainted wastewater discharge.

The estuary waters near the outfalls of sewage-treatment plants, and effluent sampled at the plants, were cocktails of 81 drugs and personal-care products, with levels detected among the highest in the nation.

The medicine chest of common drugs also included Flonase, Aleve and Tylenol. Paxil, Valium and Zoloft. Tagamet, OxyContin and Darvon. Nicotine and caffeine. Fungicides, antiseptics and anticoagulants. And Cipro and other antibiotics galore.

Why are the levels so high? It could be because people here use more of the drugs detected, or it could be related to wastewater-treatment plants’ processes, said Jim Meador, an environmental toxicologist at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and lead author on a paper published this week in the journal Environmental Pollution.

“The concentrations in effluent were higher than we expected,” Meador said. “We analyzed samples for 150 compounds and we had 61 percent of them detected in effluent. So we know these are going into the estuaries.”

The samples were gathered over two days in September 2014 from Sinclair Inlet off Bremerton and near the mouth of Blair Waterway in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay.

The chemicals turned up in both the water and the tissues of migratory juvenile chinook salmon and resident staghorn sculpin. If anything, the study probably underreports the amount of drugs in the water closer to outfall pipes, or in deeper water, researchers found.

Even fish tested in the intended control waters in the Nisqually estuary, which receives no direct municipal treatment-plant discharge, tested positive for an alphabet soup of chemicals in supposedly pristine waters.

“That was supposed to be our clean reference area,” Meador said. He also was surprised that levels in many cases were higher than in many of the 50 largest wastewater-treatment plants around the nation. Those plants were sampled in another study by the EPA. […]

“You have to wonder what it is doing to the fish,” Meador said. His other recent work has shown that juvenile chinook salmon migrating through contaminated estuaries in Puget Sound die at twice the rate of fish elsewhere.

The drugs detected in the study could be part of the reason, as they have the potential to affect fish growth, behavior, reproduction, immune function and antibiotic resistance. [more]

Drugs found in Puget Sound salmon from tainted wastewater


This study was designed to assess the occurrence and concentrations of a broad range of contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) from three local estuaries within a large estuarine ecosystem. In addition to effluent from two wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), we sampled water and whole-body juvenile Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and Pacific staghorn sculpin (Leptocottus armatus) in estuaries receiving effluent. We analyzed these matrices for 150 compounds, which included pharmaceuticals, personal care products (PPCPs), and several industrial compounds. Collectively, we detected 81 analytes in effluent, 25 analytes in estuary water, and 42 analytes in fish tissue. A number of compounds, including sertraline, triclosan, estrone, fluoxetine, metformin, and nonylphenol were detected in water and tissue at concentrations that may cause adverse effects in fish. Interestingly, 29 CEC analytes were detected in effluent and fish tissue, but not in estuarine waters, indicating a high potential for bioaccumulation for these compounds. Although concentrations of most detected analytes were present at relatively low concentrations, our analysis revealed that overall CEC inputs to each estuary amount to several kilograms of these compounds per day. This study is unique because we report on CEC concentrations in estuarine waters and whole-body fish, which are both uncommon in the literature. A noteworthy finding was the preferential bioaccumulation of CECs in free-ranging juvenile Chinook salmon relative to staghorn sculpin, a benthic species with relatively high site fidelity.

Contaminants of emerging concern in a large temperate estuary

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