Health-Threatening Antidepressant Drugs Found In Fish Brains In Niagara River, Great Lakes Region

“The drugs enter rivers and lakes in Great Lakes region from treatment plants and sewage overflows, threatening aquatic life, University of  Buffalo scientists say

A News release from Charlotte Hsu, University of Buffalo

Posted September 5th, 2017 on Niagara At Large

(A Brief Foreword Note to this from NAL reporter and publisher Doug Draper – Recurring  discharges of pollution  to the Niagara River this summer from Niagara Falls, New York’s municipal wastewater plant, news I’ve heard in recent years of a possible increase in toxic chemicals in fish and freshwater mussels downstream from major toxic waste dumps along the Niagara River, and now the following disturbing news I hope you all read from researchers at the University of Buffalo.

Unfortunately, all of this takes me back to my first years, more than 35 years ago, as a reporter covering emerging pollution issues in the Niagara River and Great Lakes.

And just as unfortunately, this time out we seem to have government bodies on the Ontario side of the Niagara River that are supposed to have some responsibility for environmental protection and conservation apparently  MISSING IN ACTION.

Stay tune to much more about these issues in Niagara At Large in the days and weeks ahead.)

BUFFALO, New York.— Human antidepressants are building up in the brains of bass, walleye and several other fish common to the Great Lakes region, scientists say.

In a new study, researchers detected high concentrations of these drugs and their metabolized remnants in the brain tissue of 10 fish species found in the Niagara River.

This vital conduit connects two of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario, via Niagara Falls. The discovery of antidepressants in aquatic life in the river raises serious environmental concerns, says lead scientist Diana Aga, PhD, the Henry M. Woodburn Professor of Chemistry in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences.

A rock bass. Researchers have detected build-ups of human antidepressants in the brains of this fish species, among others, in the Niagara River, which links Lake Erie with Lake Ontario. Image is a stock image and may not be republished.

“These active ingredients from antidepressants, which are coming out from wastewater treatment plants, are accumulating in fish brains,” Aga says. “It is a threat to biodiversity, and we should be very concerned.

“These drugs could affect fish behavior. We didn’t look at behavior in our study, but other research teams have shown that antidepressants can affect the feeding behavior of fish or their survival instincts. Some fish won’t acknowledge the presence of predators as much.”

If changes like these occur in the wild, they have the potential to disrupt the delicate balance between species that helps to keep the ecosystem stable, says study co-author Randolph Singh, PhD, a recent UB graduate from Aga’s lab.

“The levels of antidepressants found do not pose a danger to humans who eat the fish, especially in the U.S., where most people do not eat organs like the brain,” Singh says. “However, the risk that the drugs pose to biodiversity is real, and scientists are just beginning to understand what the consequences might be.”

The Niagara River ‘blob’, discharged from the Niagara Falls, New York municipal wastewater plant,  for countless thousands Falls tourists to see on a July 29th Saturday afternoon

The research team included other scientists from UB, Ramkhamhaeng University and Khon Kaen University, both in Thailand, and SUNY Buffalo State. The study was published on Aug. 16 in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

A dangerous cocktail of antidepressants in the water

Aga has spent her career developing techniques for detecting contaminants such as pharmaceuticals, antibiotics and endocrine disrupters in the environment.

This is a field of growing concern, especially as the use of such chemicals expands. The percentage of Americans taking antidepressants, for instance, rose 65 percent between 1999-2002 and 2011-14, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Wastewater treatment facilities have failed to keep pace with this growth, typically ignoring these drugs, which are then released into the environment, Aga says.

Her new study looked for a variety of pharmaceutical and personal care product chemicals in the organs and muscles of 10 fish species: smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rudd, rock bass, white bass, white perch, walleye, bowfin, steelhead and yellow perch.

Our Great Lakes – source of the world’s largest supply of freshwater – from space. We cannot afford to ravage these life-giving waters. There is no PLAN B!

Antidepressants stood out as a major problem: These drugs or their metabolites were found in the brains of every fish species the scientists studied.

The highest concentration of a single compound was found in a rock bass, which had about 400 nanograms of norsertraline — a metabolite of sertraline, the active ingredient in Zoloft — per gram of brain tissue. This was in addition to a cocktail of other compounds found in the same fish, including citalopram, the active ingredient in Celexa, and norfluoxetine, a metabolite of the active ingredient in Prozac and Sarafem.

More than half of the fish brain samples had norsertraline levels of 100 nanograms per gram or higher. In addition, like the rock bass, many of the fish had a medley of antidepressant drugs and metabolites in their brains.

Evidence that antidepressants can change fish behavior generally comes from laboratory studies that expose the animals to higher concentrations of drugs than what is found in the Niagara River. But the findings of the new study are still worrisome: The antidepressants that Aga’s team detected in fish brains had accumulated over time, often reaching concentrations that were several times higher than the levels in the river.

In the brains of smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, rock bass, white bass and walleye, sertraline was found at levels that were estimated to be 20 or more times higher than levels in river water. Levels of norsertraline, the drug’s breakdown product, were even greater, reaching concentrations that were often hundreds of times higher than that found in the river.

Scientists have not done enough research yet to understand what amount of antidepressants poses a risk to animals, or how multiple drugs might interact synergistically to influence behavior, Aga says.

Wastewater treatment is behind the times

The study raises concerns regarding wastewater treatment plants, whose operations have not kept up with the times, says Aga, a member of the UB RENEW (Research and Education in eNergy, Environment and Water) Institute.

In general, wastewater treatment focuses narrowly on killing disease-causing bacteria and on extracting solid matter such as human excrement. Antidepressants, which are found in the urine of people who use the drugs, are largely ignored, along with other chemicals of concern that have become commonplace, Aga says.

“These plants are focused on removing nitrogen, phosphorus, and dissolved organic carbon but there are so many other chemicals that are not prioritized that impact our environment,” she says. “As a result, wildlife is exposed to all of these chemicals. Fish are receiving this cocktail of drugs 24 hours a day, and we are now finding these drugs in their brains.”

The problem is exacerbated, Singh says, by sewage overflows that funnel large quantities of untreated water into rivers and lakes. In August, for example, The Buffalo News reported that since May of 2017, a half billion gallons of combined sewage and storm water had flowed into local waterways, including the Niagara River.

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A rock bass. Researchers have detected build-ups of human antidepressants in the brains of this fish species, among others, in the Niagara River, which links Lake Erie with Lake Ontario. Image is a stock image and may not be republished.

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2 responses to “Health-Threatening Antidepressant Drugs Found In Fish Brains In Niagara River, Great Lakes Region

  1. Any drugs disposed of when unused should be returned to a pharmacy, NOT flushed down the toilet or put in the garbage.

    Is it possible the massive increase in the usage of antidepressants is related to political developments? LOL.


  2. Surprise! Surprise! I have been saying for years, the medical community is too free and easy with antidepressants and other psychotropic — indeed most other — meds. Why do you think we have the opioid crisis we have. Of course, I’m not a doctor and I don’t practice medicine. I’m not giving a medical opinion either. I can see, however, and I can conclude from my observations over many years; too many pills are prescribed when personal, direct, one-to-one therapy would accomplish more for perhaps the majority of those who experience anxiety and even depression. Yet, when the hospital was staffed to address mental health, to my recollection the person in charge hired/appointed only medical personnel.
    I have encountered over and over again, refugees, for example that have been sent to a psychiatrist to address the trauma the client/patient has survived. Without exceptions, those of which I have knowledge, came back with prescriptions for medication. Yet, at least some, only needed counselling and psychotherapy. I have seen how that can work “miracles” for some at least.
    In Canada, seven per cent of all patients admitted to acute care hospitals (or about 158,000 Canadians a year) will suffer a medical misadventure. Close to 60,000 of these cases are preventable. About 150 patients die a year as a result of adverse medical events.
    How many other injuries or deaths occur from prescribed medications. The fact that no number is readily available is one indication of the many challenges scientists, medical professionals and others face in the fight to overcome what some have labelled a public health crisis: prescription drug misuse and abuse in Canada. We see the tip of the “iceberg” but so much more is hidden below the surface.
    That anti-anxiety meds find their way into the brains of fish may account for their stupidity when it comes to avoiding being dinner for some creature — including and perhaps more especially cunning us — is at least evidence of how much these drugs are prescribed beyond human ability to make proper use of them. After all, don’t our bodies pass on what we don’t use or need?
    The pharmacological industry has too much influence on which drugs actually make it to market, how much are prescribed, and how much knowledge doctors have about them. So much so, that I wonder whether the industry is a benevolent as we are led to believe. I for one discovered that a doctor, I stress not my family doctor who always discusses prescriptions with me, the other doctor had prescribed for me a medication for headaches which medication could lead to congestive heart failure: something he forgot or neglected to mention. In another case a very expensive medication was prescribed and I was given a card with a serial number on it. When I questioned the company about whether the doctor receive either a direct or indirect benefit to himself as a result of my trying the medication, the company refused to answer.
    The time has surely come where the whole institutionalized thinking around prescription drugs need to be revisited by those who do not have a direct commercial stake in the outcome: i.e., consumers, patients. Of course we need to hear from the manufactures, scientists and the like, but we need to consider and reassess the whole process with an eye to doing substantially better. Maybe then we can put an end to the oversubscription of drugs like those used to treat ADHD — which can be diagnosed better and treated more effectively, I suggest — and other psychotropic meds: indeed all meds.
    Or, why not just dump the drugs into the water and get them to the fish directly? The fish will certainly be easier to catch and we will get our meds they way the fish do now: indirectly, through the fish passing on to us what they can’t be forced to use themselves.


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