By Teresa Shipley
The oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico isn’t the only threat to crustaceans.
Shrimp exposed to the human antidepressant fluoxetine, also known by the brand name Prozac, are changing their behavior in dangerous ways, according to scientists at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom.
The shrimp become five times more likely to swim toward light, potentially bringing them closer to fishermen’s nets and birds beaks.
“Crustaceans are crucial to the food chain. And if shrimps’ natural behavior is being changed because of antidepressant levels in the sea, this could seriously upset the natural balance of the ecosystem,” lead researcher Alex Ford said in a university press release.
“Much of what humans consume you can detect in the water in some concentration,” Ford said. “We’re a nation of coffee drinkers and there is a huge amount of caffeine found in waste water, for example. It’s no surprise that what we get from the pharmacy will also be contaminating the country’s waterways.”
Drugs can get into our waterways in a variety of ways, including toilets, landfills and sewage runoff, according to a recent report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA).
Traces of those drugs end up in human waste, which then gets flushed down the toilet. Wastewater treatment facilities haven’t traditionally tested for pharmaceuticals and therefore haven’t been able to remove all drug compounds before releasing wastewater into rivers and oceans.
That’s how drugs end up being fed to shrimp, Ford says.
“Effluent is concentrated in river estuaries and coastal areas, which is where shrimps and other marine life live,” he said.
Fluoxetine affects serotonin, a brain chemical that affects our feelings of happiness. Almost half the U.S. population takes at least one prescription drug, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Ford said he’s going to continue researching the effects other antidepressants have on marine life.
The research is published in the journal Aquatic Toxicology.