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Researchers find popular heart medicine showing up in W.Va. fish

Researchers find popular heart medicine showing up in W.Va. fish

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Researchers at West Virginia University are finding levels of some of the most prescribed heart medications showing up in fish in West Virginia waters.

Joseph Kingsbury, a doctoral student at WVU, and is conducting research overseen by Dr. Kyle Hartman, professor, wildlife and fisheries resources, WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design in Morgantown.

Their work is to examine statins and beta blockers which are showing up in the fish.

Researchers find the impact of the heart meds on sunfish is particularly detrimental PHOTO: WVU

“Statins prevent the production of cholesterol which is good for us if we’re not in great shape, but for fish cholesterol is life. It’s how they create lipids and store fat for lean times like through the winter when food is not as available,” said Kingsbury.

He said beta blockers likewise have great benefits for humans by slowing our heartrate and lowering hypertension, but they are not as beneficial for fish because it of negative immune responses and adverse developmental issues.

“We thought we should probably start taking a look at this in West Virginia because we don’t usually look at rural waters,” he said in a conversation on West Virginia Outdoors.

With assistance from the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources, 21 separate species of fish were sampled from the West Fork River at Weston and the Tygart Valley River at Elkins. The samples were taken near the discharge of sewage treatment plants. Those areas at times tends to be a congregating spot for many types of fish.

According to Kingsbury the levels of the drugs they’re finding in the fish are only trace amounts, but even trace amounts are having an impact.

Joseph Kingsbury

“These are very small amounts of pharmaceuticals, it’s not a lot. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, it doesn’t take a lot,” he explained. “They are designed to specifically target biological pathways in our bodies, but because we are both vertebrates the fish have those same pathways. Because they are very small amounts, it’s not going to kill the fish outright, but what we will see is an overall change in the health of the fish.”

So far, the research has shown some species react differently than others. A lot of the minnow species actually saw benefits from the drugs, but for others it was taxing their system. Kingsbury said the impact was particularly evident in sunfish species.

“They seem to suffer quite a bit in reduced conditions, depending on the given pharmaceutical and led us to believe there may be other things to study going forward,” Kingsbury said.

Clearly, the widely prescribed drugs are getting into the waterways through sewer discharge. So, why not just treat for the chemical compounds found in those drugs at the sewer plants? Well, like most things it isn’t that simple and it’s not cheap.

“Pharmaceuticals in general are meant to be very stable because they are made to be stored for months at a time or years at a time. They’re also very chemically complex, so because they are so resilient to being broken down it requires a variety of treatment methods,” he said.

Some need to be in an acidic environment, some need to be in a basic environment. Some to break down need UV light and others need to be hit with electrolysis. All of the various treatments carry a substantial price tag.

Dr. Kyle Hartman

“Money is typically our limiting resource in infrastructure, it’s not that they don’t want to treat for these or that they can’t, it’s just that we don’t typically invest this kind of money into our infrastructure to treat for these kinds of things,” Kingsbury said.

So, he hoped the study, once done, will serve as an informational guide to pharmaceutical makers and doctors who prescribe the drugs.

“All are pretty effective, but we’ll try to help provide information about what happens downstream. We can help doctors to understand if they have to prescribe one or the other, they might lean toward a certain one because it has less impact on our aquatic environment,”

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