Medicines in the Environment Hurt Aquatic Life

Even the low levels of medicines found in our waterways hurt fish and aquatic life.

Researchers have observed:

  • Negative changes in reproductive function of fish.1
  • Lethargic behavior. 2
  • Decreased ability to compete.3


Scientists in the Pacific Northwest have found:

  • Hormones from medicines in lakes and streams in King County. 4
  • Biological changes in English sole in some areas of Puget Sound that may be caused by synthetic estrogen compounds. 5
  • Medicines in the lower Columbia River Basin sediments6 and in the Columbia River.7
  • Medicines in the treated wastewater being discharged to local waters of Olympia, Lacey, Puyallup and Tacoma8, and in the Sequim-Dungeness region.9


Medicines are in Found in Fish Tissues

A 2008 EPA study found a range of medicines in the tissues from fish collected from streams. The drug compounds found included:  heart medications, antihistimines, antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and cholesterol lowering drugs.10
The simplest way to reduce the amount of medicines contaminating our environment is to take your unwanted medicines to a take-back program for safe disposal.


What You Can Do Now

1 Woodling, J.D., et al (2006).  Intersex and other reproductive disruption of fish in wastewater effluent dominated Colorado streams.  Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology.  Part C: Toxicology & Pharmacology:  CBP, 144(1), 10-15.

2 Henry, T.B., & Black, M.C. (2008).  Acute and chronic toxicity of fluoxetine (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) in western mosquitofish.  Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 54(2), 325-330.

3 Perrault, H.A., et al. (2003).  Fluoxetine treatment decreases territorial agression in a coral reef fish.  Physiology & Behavior, 79(4-5), 719-724.

4 King County (2007). Survey of Endocrine Disruptors in King County Surface Waters. Prepared by Richard Jack and Deb Lester. Water and Land Resources Division. Seattle; WA.  Accessed 09/02/10.

5Johnson, LL, DP Lomaxa, MS Myers, OP Olsona, SY Sola, S M O’Neill, J West and TK Collier 2008. Xenoestrogen exposure and effects in English sole (Parophrys vetulus) from Puget Sound, WA. Aquat. Toxicol. 88:29-38

6 Washington State Department of Ecology; Nilsen, et al. USGS (2007). Pharmaceuticals and personal care products detected in streambed sediments of the lower Columbia River and selected tributaries. Accessed 09/02/10.

7 Morace, J.L. (2006). Water-Quality Data, Columbia River Estuary, 2004-05. Data Series. U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey. Accessed 09/02/10.

8 Lubliner, B., M. Redding, and D. Ragsdale, 2010. Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Municipal Wastewater and Their Removal by Nutrient Treatment Technologies.  Washington State Department of Ecology, Olympia, WA.  Publication Number 10-03-004.

9 Johnson, A., et al., (2004).  Results of a Screening Analysis for Pharmaceuticals in Wastewater Treatment Plant Effluents, Wells and Creeks in the Sequim-Dungeness Area No. 04-03-051. Accessed 09/02/10.

10 EPA Pilot Study of PPCPs in Fish Tissue. 2008.