Researchers find cocaine and banned pesticides inside freshwater shrimp

“All drains lead to the ocean,” or so said the Clownfish named Gill in Finding Nemo. The Moorish idol voiced by Willem Dafoe was trying to escape his fish tank by a trip down the toilet. The idea may not be entirely accurate but there is much truth in the thought that what goes down the drain can turn up in very unlikely places. Consider what scientists found inside the bodies of freshwater shrimp in the UK.


For example, a team of scientists from England was recently shocked to discover that freshwater shrimp in multiple rural rivers tested positive for cocaine and an anesthetic called lidocaine, used “to bulk up the cocaine.” The scientists suspect the drugs got into the waterways through leakages or overflows from sewers.


Two hours northeast of London in the rivers of Suffolk County, the team collected the crustaceans and tested them in the lab. Minute traces of prescription drugs, recreational drugs, and banned pesticides were found. The concentration may well be much higher in urban areas.


Note: These were not the kind of saltwater shrimp you would eat at a restaurant, but those living in rivers.


A co-author of the study, Dr. Leon Barron, senior lecturer in forensic science at King’s College London, reacted:


“Such regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising.”

Another co-author, Nic Bury from the University of Suffolk suggested further research was required.


“Whether the presence of cocaine in aquatic animals is an issue for Suffolk, or more widespread an occurrence in the UK and abroad, awaits further research.


Not only that, there were a host of other micropollutants in the aquatic creature’s bodies. The source: drugs and other chemicals flushed down the toilet by humans.


According to Newsweek:


“Pesticides banned in the U.K. were also discovered, including fenuron. Ketamine, the animal tranquilizer which is used as a party drug, was also identified, as well as the opioid medication Tramadol and an antidepressant.”

Dr. Thomas Miller of King’s College London assured the public that “potential for any effect is likely to be low,” but in reality, there has to be more research to know exactly how this impacts aquatic life or other lifeforms on the food chain.

“Environmental health has attracted much attention from the public due to challenges associated with climate change and microplastic pollution. However, the impact of ‘invisible’ chemical pollution (such as drugs) on wildlife health needs more focus in the UK as policy can often be informed by studies such as these,” Professor Nic Bury from the University of Suffolk explained in a news release.

The reality is that the chemicals we put into our bodies end up in our waterways and then inside the food chain.


From ABC7 News:


“Drugs, in particular, make their way into the environment through human waste that enters the sewage system and when unused medications are flushed down the toilet or washed down the sink instead of being disposed of properly.”

Lest you think this just affects the UK – not so. In 2002, a United States Geological Survey study which tested lifeforms in 139 streams from 30 American states found one or more chemicals detected “in 80 percent of the streams sampled.” The samples were gathered during 1999 and 2000.


According to the study:


“Chemicals, used everyday in homes, industry and agriculture, can enter the environment in wastewater. These chemicals include human and veterinary drugs (including antibiotics), hormones, detergents, disinfectants, plasticizers, fire retardants, insecticides, and antioxidants.”

The most commonly detected chemicals were steroids, nonprescription drugs, and insect repellents. The chemicals found in the highest concentrations were: Detergent metabolites, steroids, and plasticizers.


Although the concentrations were still considered too low to cause a big problem, the truth is we don’t know what the impact is, as pointed out in the American study.


“Little is known about the potential health effects to humans or aquatic organisms exposed to the low levels of most of these chemicals or the mixtures commonly found in this study.”

See more about how Dr. Leon Barron tested sampled for cocaine from a wastewater plant below. He has seen a sharp rise in cocaine use in the UK.


More from Wochit News below:


Featured image: Freshwater shrimp via Wikimedia Commons

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Matthew Silvan

Progressive liberal from the American south. Working to educate and inform on issues like preserving the environment, equality for minorities and women, and improving the quality of life for mankind and our ecosystem. Following the facts in the face of a movement to follow only the money.

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