Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
For some fish living downstream of sewage treatment plants the answer is yes. U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists and their colleagues published a paper in Environmental Science and Technology documenting that specific antidepressants and their degradates found in wastewater discharged into streams by municipal wastewater treatment plants are taken up into the bodies of fish living downstream of the plants. The antidepressants were found in fish collected over 8 kilometers (approximately 5 miles) downstream of the location of the wastewater discharge. The scientists detected several commonly used antidepressants in water, streambed sediment, and the brain tissue of white suckers, a native fish species. Fish collected upstream from the wastewater discharge did not have antidepressants present in their brain tissues. The study was conducted in two streams, Boulder Creek near Boulder, Colorado, and Fourmile Creek near Ankeny, Iowa.
Schultz, M.M., Furlong, E.T., Kolpin, D.W., Werner, S.L., Schoenfuss, H.L., Barber, L.B., Blazer, V.S., Norris, D.O., and Vajda, A.M., 2010,
Antidepressant pharmaceuticals in two U.S. effluent-impacted streams--Occurrence and fate in water and sediment, and selective uptake in fish neural tissue: Environmental Science and Technology, doi:10.1021/es9022706 (Advanced Web release).
Painter, M.M., Buerkley, M.A., Julius, M.L., Vajda, A.M., Norris, D.O., Barber, L.B., Furlong, E.T., Schultz, M.M., and Schoenfuss, H.L., 2009, Antidepressants at environmentally relevant concentrations affect predator avoidance behavior of larval fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas): Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, v. 28, no. 12, p. 2677-2684, doi:10.1897/08-556.1.
"The most important observation in our study is that you cannot necessarily predict which antidepressants are present in aquatic tissue from antidepressant concentrations in the water the organisms are living in. This study clearly documents selective uptake of specific antidepressants into fish brain tissue that were minor components in corresponding water samples. There are many reasons why this selective uptake may occur - including differences in fat versus water solubilities of the targeted antidepressants - but these results suggest other, as yet unidentified mechanisms may also be involved that warrant further study.
We also do not yet fully understand the implications for fish health and populations from exposure to these antidepressants. However, we have collaborated in laboratory experiments (Painter and others, 2009) documenting a slowed predator avoidance behavior in larval fathead minnows exposed to antidepressant concentrations similar to those observed in this study. A slower response to predators is probably not helpful when you are on the lower end of the food chain."
Edward Furlong, USGS research chemist, corresponding author