Mussels off the coast of Seattle test positive for opioids

Mussels off the coast of Seattle test positive for opioids

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife obtained clean mussels from Penn Cove on Whidbey Island and put them in different areas to test for water contamination, KIRO-TV reported this week. The shellfish are filter feeders who gain nourishment from their surroundings, while simultaneously absorbing whatever contaminants are also in the water - making them an ideal barometer for environmental scientists to test water pollution in a given area.

While mussels likely don't metabolize drugs like oxycodone, and thus wouldn't necessarily be physically harmed by the presence of it in their tissues, studies show that fish are not so lucky. The mussels were contaminated because sewage from opioid consumers ended up in the sound after being treated at wastewater plants, scientists explained.

"The doses of oxycodone that we found in mussels are like 100 to 500 times lower than you would need for an adult male therapeutic dose", she said.

Scientists determined that the slew of medications are passed into the Puget Sound through discharge from wastewater treatment plants.

Trace amounts of the opioid were detected in mussels near Bremerton's shipyard and Elliot Bay. Department of Fish and Wildlife regularly places mussels raised in controlled, pollution-free environments at 18 set locations around Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean.


The west coast of the United States -and other communities across the country- continue to struggle with the devastating impact of opioid addiction, with the problem so bad the region's mussel population is now testing positive for the substance.

James said that the mussels were found in highly urbanized areas, not commercial shellfish beds, and that seafood from the Puget Sound was safe to eat.

"Hopefully our data shows what's out there and can get the process started for cleaning up our waters", Lanksbury said. The drug was found at "levels where we might want to look at biological impacts", said James.

"Mussels have a simpler system than fish, and that makes them great for monitoring", Lanksbury said.

She says mussels at a restaurant or store are healthy because they come from clean locations. This is the first time that opioids have been detected in Puget Sound mussels, the PSI statement said.

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