Mussels in Puget Sound testing positive for opioids

Henrietta Strickland
May 26, 2018

As the United States continues to grapple with a widespread opioid epidemic, alarming research from Seattle indicates that the local population is consuming so much oxycodone that it's seeping into the local water supply.

These mussels, however, were never meant to end up on the dinner table. Instead, they were used specifically to measure levels of pollution in the waters of Puget Sound, according to a May 9 statement from the Puget Sound Institute (PSI) at the University of Washington, Tacoma.

Scientists have discovered oxycodone in mussels when testing water for contamination.

"It's telling me there's a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area", Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologists at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, told KIRO7. Then, two to three months later, the scientists analyze the mussel tissues for pollutants.

The west coast of the United States -and other communities across the country- continue to struggle with the devastating impact of opioid addiction, with the problem so bad the region's mussel population is now testing positive for the substance.

When people take drugs like opioids, that's not the end of the story.

The opioids likely come from wastewater treatment plants, according to the statement; even filtered wastewater can contain traces of pollutants.

King County Wastewater Management told KIRO7 that although their system has the potential to detect and filter out most contaminants from the water, it can not catch everything.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife brought in clean mussels from Whigby Island and put them in the water at Elliott Bay by Harbor Island to test the water for pollution.

It's possible, however, that the opioids could affect fish, which are known to respond to the drugs, James added.

The transplanted locations aren't near any commercial shellfish beds. "The concentration of oxycodone in the mussels were about 100 to 500 times less than than you would get in a normal therapeutic dose for humans", Lanksbury said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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