Fish on drugs not a good thing
Our Western Colorado rivers are an economic driver here — river sports bring in thousands of visitors and millions of tourist dollars. But clean rivers and streams are vulnerable to contamination.
Most of us are aware that automotive fuels and lubricants and ice melters wash into rivers from roads and parking lots, and that fertilizers and pesticides leach into waterways from agriculture, golf courses and lawns.
But there’s another threat that isn’t so obvious. Many of us have medications that we never finished taking, and it’s tempting to just toss ’em down the toilet.
Not so fast.
Glenwood’s brand new sewer plant is pretty cool, but while it’s very effective, it can’t remove everything we throw down the toilet. The treatment process uses billions of carefully selected microorganisms to break down most of the stuff that comes down the pipe. But these bugs can’t metabolize compounds in many medications. So these medications, or their byproducts, pass through the sewer plant and into the river.
Fish take up many of these compounds, and are affected by them. Studies have not been done on every drug or every species of fish. But some studies have been done.
One Swedish study indicated that even a trace of a particular anti-anxiety drug in the water alters fish behavior, to the extent that the affected fish may be easier prey. Another study, done near Boulder, found that fish bred in water containing traces of birth control medication byproducts show a high rate of hermaphroditism — exhibiting characteristics of both genders in one individual.
Other studies have looked at the effect of drugs on the aquatic ecosystem: Traces of antihistamines, antibiotics, and diabetic medications, for example, were found to slow the growth of the biofilm—a coating of algae, fungus, bacteria, and organic matter on stream bottoms. This slimy stuff isn’t glamorous, but it is important, because it’s what aquatic bugs and snails eat, and fish eat them.
Also near the bottom of the food web, are daphnia, tiny critters also known as water fleas. In a recent study, 90 percent of daphnia died when exposed to water containing a combination of Prozac and a statin (a cholesterol reducer) at the very weak concentration of 100 parts per billion.
It’s difficult to solve this problem at the treatment plant, since every additional treatment capability adds additional expense, and our water bills are outrageous as it is.
So don’t flush those drugs. Take them to city hall. The Glenwood Springs Police Department provides a drop-off point on the west end of the building. Just north of the police department entrance, you’ll find a small steel door mounted in a brick wall. Drop off your unused drugs there, (pills only—no liquids, no needles) and police will permanently and safely dispose of them.
Glenwood Springs’ Drug Take-back program has been in effect for more than five years, and is supported by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. Please drop off your unwanted drugs, and the fish in the Colorado River will be happier.
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