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E-M:/ pharmaceuticals in the environment

Title: pharmaceuticals in the environment
Original URL: http://www.jsonline.com/alive/news/may05/329670.asp

WARNING: Side effects can be severe

Common drugs are seeping into our lakes, fish and water supply


Posted: May 28, 2005

First of two parts

It was barely a drop, but the effect of the drug was astonishing.

Pointing to a digital recording of fathead minnows gasping for breath in a milky, murky stew, researcher Rebecca Klaper said: "We had planned to keep them in there for a week, but we had to pull them the next day. They were going to die."

Male fathead minnows, native to Lake Michigan, swim in a control tank at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Great Lakes WATER Institute. Researchers are studying the effects of common drugs on aquatic life.

Researcher Rebecca Klaper examines a beaker filled with daphnia to learn more about the effects of pharmaceuticals on aquatic life.

Primary Concerns Researchers say two primary concerns exist when it comes to these drugs. First, the drugs going into the water might affect the environment, particularly the biological food chain. Second, the drugs could come back to people in drinking water.

Klaper, of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Great Lakes WATER Institute, is investigating the effects of common drugs, such as pain relievers, anti-depressants and lipid regulators, on lake fish and invertebrates. Many of these medications pass through the body, into the sewer system and out to the environment largely unaltered. And because they are designed to affect the biology of a living organism - to reduce headaches, control seizures or suppress coughs - she and other researchers think they could have an impact on fish and other wildlife.

Standing in her lab at the WATER Institute, an old tile warehouse on the banks of the Kinnickinnic River, Klaper reviewed the minnow experiment. She pointed to the fishes' gills, which were straining open and shut in a desperate attempt to filter oxygen in the deadly murk surrounding them.

"The water was cloudy by the time we got in the next morning," said Chris Rees, a research assistant, recalling the day after a lipid regulator was introduced into their tank.

But the milkiness wasn't from the drug itself, Klaper said. It was the physical manifestation of the stressed and dying fish - a cloudy stew of mucous and other piscine secretions.