Minnesota Lakes and Rivers Contaminated With Drugs

By McCarton Ackerman 06/03/15

Researchers found scores of drugs in lakes and rivers, including antibiotics and other pharmaceutical drugs.

minnesota lake.jpg
Land of 10,000 Contaminated Lakes. Shutterstock

There are more than 4,500 lakes and rivers throughout Minnesota, but a new study has found that many of them are contaminated with pharmaceutical drugs and other chemicals.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency tested 11 lakes and four rivers across the state for 125 different chemicals. Study author Mark Ferrey and the other scientists found 27 chemicals in the lakes they sampled. More than 90% of the lakes also had traces of DEET, the main ingredient found in insect repellent, while one-third of the lakes contained the diabetes drug metformin. Researchers also found antibiotics, hormones, and other pharmaceutical drugs.

Meanwhile, the river samples showed 56 chemicals downstream of four wastewater treatment plants, and 33 chemicals upstream of those plants. Similar levels of contamination were found during a research project conducted in 2012.

"I think what we're seeing as a result of these studies gives us pause enough and gives us concern enough that more study down the road is certainly warranted," said Ferrey.

He also noted that the drugs and chemicals in these rivers and lakes were found at very low levels that amounted to parts per trillion. To put it into perspective, a single drop of water in a swimming pool the size of a football field would be about one part per trillion. But even at low volumes, the drugs can still have an impact on fish genetics.

"We see under laboratory conditions that they can turn on or turn off genes in fish, several hundred at a time," said Ferrey. "We don't know the full consequences of that, although we can observe that.” Additional research this summer will help determine how the drugs enter surface water across the state and which genes of fish are most affected by them.

In May 2014, London was dubbed the “cocaine capital of Europe” after sewage water in 42 cities across the continent was tested for traces of the drug.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.