Illicit drugs in their powdered form can end up in all sorts of strange places. For one, we have all heard that banknotes contain traces of cocaine, which was one reason the UK introduced plastic bank notes in 2016. However, according to a recent study from King’s College London in collaboration with the University of Suffolk, there’s an even stranger place cocaine and other illicit drugs end up: inside of freshwater shrimp.
Researchers tested shrimp from fifteen different locations across Suffolk, gathering samples from the rivers Alde, Box, Deben, Gipping and Waveney. The researchers were testing for the presence of various micropollutants in freshwater shrimp. Surprisingly, cocaine was found in all collected samples.
While the researchers stated that the effects on the individual shrimp were likely to be low at the discovered concentrations, the implications for our environmental health and cleanliness are grim. In addition to the drugs, banned pesticides and pharmaceuticals were also widespread in the shrimp that were collected. It is not yet certain how the chemicals enter the animals.
The researchers were testing for the presence of various micropollutants in freshwater shrimp. Surprisingly, cocaine was found in all collected samples
The study indicated the presence of numerous toxins in freshwater animals in Suffolk but did not clarify the origin or direct impacts of these toxins. Professor Nic Bury from the University of Suffolk said, “The impact of ‘invisible’ chemical pollution (such as drugs) on wildlife health needs more focus in the UK.”
The most surprising part of this study is the location in which this pollution is occurring. Dr Leon Barron from King’s College London said, “Such regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising. We might expect to see these in urban areas such as London, but not in smaller and more rural catchments.”
Professor Bury added, “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.”
Many of the substances found in the shrimp are illegal, but are clearly slipping through the cracks of governmental control and into our waterways
This could either mean that Suffolk has a specific issue with these substances, or that they are travelling from more frequently polluted waterways. That remains to be seen. The broader issue is the continuing pollution of freshwater, particularly since the pesticides found have been banned in the UK for years. The source of these pesticides remains unclear.
Further research needs to be done about the effects of these chemical pollutants on freshwater wildlife, and more institutional efforts are needed towards maintaining a clean environment to begin with. Many of the substances found in the shrimp are illegal, but are clearly slipping through the cracks of governmental control and into our waterways. Until we fully understand the origins and effects of these substances in the water, the health of our environment and of ourselves is at constant risk.
This post was written by Miles Martin and edited by Karolina Zieba.