BALTIMORE (WJZ) — In some Baltimore streams, the concentration of amphetamine in the water is so high that it can affect the “aquatic food web.”
That’s according to a study led by Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies and released this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. It’s one of the first to explore the consequences of drug pollution in city waterways.
“Around the world, treated and untreated wastewater entering surface waters contains pharmaceuticals and illicit drugs that originate from human consumption and excretion, manufacturing processes, or improper disposal,” said lead author Sylvia S. Lee, who’s now with the Environmental Protection Agency. “We were interested in revealing how amphetamine exposure influences the small plants and animals that play a large role in regulating the health of streams.”
Lee and her team tested six sites in the city in 2013 and 2014 and found numerous drugs, including amphetamine, with the highest concentrations in the most urban areas.
Suburban and urban fieldwork focused on the Gwynns Falls watershed. The Oregon Ridge watershed was also tested.
The field work was followed up with an artificial stream experiment in a lab.
After recreating the conditions of the natural stream, researchers monitored ecosystem effects over three weeks.
The found that, in streams with amphetamine added, “the growth of biofilms was significantly suppressed, the composition of bacterial and diatom communities changed, and aquatic insects emerged earlier.”
“We have every reason to suspect that the release of stimulants to aquatic environments is on the rise across the globe, yet little is known about the ecological consequences of this pollution,” study co-author and Cary Institute ecologist Emma J. Rosi-Marshall said.
“We found that when artificial streams were exposed to amphetamine at a concentration similar to what we found in parts of the Gwynns Falls watershed, there were measurable and concerning effects to the base of the aquatic food web.”