Baylor Begins First National Study On Pharmaceutical Contaminants, Personal Care Products in Fish Tissue

Nov. 27, 2006

by Frank Raczkiewicz

Baylor University has been awarded a $100,000 subcontract to study whether pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCP) are found in fish tissue. The study is the first of its kind on the national level.

"There is no doubt that pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment is an issue of concern," said Kevin Chambliss, an assistant professor of chemistry at Baylor who is a co-principal researcher on the project. "What remains to be seen is whether it is a significant problem. Investigating the magnitude and frequency of accumulation in fish will provide some of the requisite data to address this question."

As urbanization continues in semi-arid and arid regions of the United States and elsewhere, many aquatic systems routinely receive effluent discharges from wastewater treatment plants. In a number of cases, such as the Trinity River in north Texas, the flow of streams and rivers can become dominated by these effluents. Although treated wastewater may meet current federal standards, no guidelines or federal testing standards exist for pharmaceuticals or personal care products because their effects in surface waters are not well understood.

"The information we gather has the potential to support future risk assessment, management and regulation of pharmaceuticals and personal care products in aquatic systems," said Bryan Brooks, an assistant professor of environmental studies at Baylor and co-principal researcher. "The potential effects of compounds on fish that we are studying are numerous and specific to each compound under investigation. However, we may be able to use mammalian pharmacology information to predict the potential effects of these products on fish."

The research subcontract comes from Tetra Tech, a leading provider of consulting, engineering and technical services that is acting as a contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Tetra Tech will collect fish samples from different streams across the nation. The samples will be brought to Baylor for researchers to analyze the fish's muscle and liver tissue for 40 different compounds ranging from antidepressants to heart medication. Researchers also will test for personal care products, such as the ingredients in sun block and DEET, a mosquito repellant.

"Fish are typically seen as a model organism for larger environmental issues, even human health," Chambliss said. "The preliminary data we have seen says there is not a human health concern. But the compounds could be responsible for certain adverse effects on fish."

Brooks and Chambliss received this competitively funded project because of their previous finding of antidepressants in fish, which was the only paper in the peer-reviewed literature on the subject. In that 2003 study, they found fluoxetine, an ingredient in antidepressants, in fish caught in Pecan Creek in north Texas. Fluoxetine is not controlled by EPA regulations for treated wastewater.

Brooks said high levels of an antidepressant in the fish can cause behavioral changes, which impact aggression, mating and other behaviors necessary for fish survival.

Brooks and Chambliss anticipate results from the new national study in the spring.

For more information, contact Kevin Chambliss at (254) 710-6849 or Bryan Brooks at (254) 710-6553.

About Tetra Tech:

With approximately 7,500 associates located in the United States and internationally, Tetra Tech supports commercial and government clients in the areas of resource management and infrastructure. Tetra Tech's services include research and development, applied science and technology, engineering design, program management, construction management, and operations and maintenance.

Relevant Reference:

Brooks BW, Chambliss CK, Stanley JK, Ramirez AJ, Banks KE, Johnson RD & RJ Lewis. 2005. Determination of select antidepressants in fish from an effluent-dominated stream. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 24: 464-469.

Looking for more news from Baylor University?