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Prescription Drugs Found in Fla. Sharks

The Ledger | June 4, 2007 

SARASOTA - Sharks in one Florida river are getting a dose of human medicine, and now scientists want to know if it's a prescription for trouble.

Scientists recently found traces of prescription antidepressants, cholesterol-lowering drugs and synthetic estrogens in the blood of young bull sharks in the Caloosahatchee River on Florida's southwest Gulf Coast.

This summer, they'll study the issue more widely. On Friday, scientists with Mote Marine Laboratory fished for bull sharks as part of research to find out what drugs the sharks encounter most and whether the doses are large enough to alter how they behave and reproduce.

The sharks come into contact with treated waste water which includes traces of the medications previously identified as the cholesterol-reducer Lipitor, various antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft, synthetic estrogens used in birth-control pills, and anti-inflammatory drugs such as Celexa.

The Caloosahatchee receives treated wastewater from several sewer plants and passes by numerous septic-system dependent communities.

And while the water is treated, and treatment systems are good at removing bacteria, they are not designed to remove drugs, which may have been flushed down the toilet or excreted by humans taking the medications.

To get a sense of the effect of drugs on sharks over time, scientists are tagging them with chemical-absorbing discs.

The discs will absorb chemicals from the environment and be compared with chemical quantities in the sharks' blood. That will help scientists estimate how well the sharks absorb the chemicals they encounter.

"We don't really have a good sense of how much is in the environment and we have certainly very little information on what the impacts are," said Jim Gelsleichter, of the Mote Marine Laboratory, who is leading the study.

Bull sharks are a good species to study because young sharks spend a year swimming in brackish waters and therefore come into greater contact with human contaminants, including treated waste water.

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