Study finds 32 different drugs in Lake Michigan

Sep 6, 2013

We excrete these drugs or dump them down the drain, and they find their way into our water.

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in rivers and lakes have been documented before, but this research finds levels in Lake Michigan that could have deleterious effects on the ecosystem.

Thirty-two different drugs were found - 14 of them were found at levels "of medium or high ecological risk."

The study was published in the journal Chemosphere:

The environmental risk of PPCPs in large lake systems, such as the Great Lakes, has been questioned due to high dilution; however, the concentrations found in this study, and their corresponding risk quotient, indicate a significant threat by PPCPs to the health of the Great Lakes, particularly near shore organisms.

Brian Bienkowski wrote about the study for Environmental Health News. Of the 14 chemicals found in concentrations of concern, Bienkowski writes triclosan has been studied the most.

...it has proven acutely toxic to algae and can act as a hormone disruptor in fish.

“You’re not going to see fish die-offs [from pharmaceuticals] but subtle changes in how the fish eat and socialize that can have a big impact down the road,” said Kolpin, who did not participate in the study. “With behavior changes and endocrine disruption, reproduction and survival problems may not rear their ugly head for generations.”

The four most commonly found drugs were:

  • caffeine
  • an anti-diabetic drug metformin,
  • and the antibiotics sulfamethoxazole, and triclosan (the stuff often found in antibiotic soaps).

Why should we care? Olga Lyandres, a research manager with the Alliance for the Great Lakes, put it like this:

“People should reconsider the notion that the Great Lakes are so large that this stuff cannot hurt us,” she said. “The stuff you excrete and wash down the drain ends up in the same bodies of water that you drink out of.”