Mussels near Victoria sewage outfalls test positive for pain killers and antidepressants


WATCH: New drug tests on sea life around the capital region are giving new meaning to the old saying “happy as a clam.” Researchers found high concentrations of pharmaceuticals in shellfish – findings environmentalists aren’t so happy about it. Isabelle Raghem reports.

It’s easy to see beauty in the waters surrounding the capital region, but beneath the surface hides an ugly problem.

The Capital Regional District (CRD) tested mussels near the outfall of one of the region’s major sewage pipes and found samples revealing high concentrations of pharmaceuticals including painkillers, birth control, antibiotics and antidepressants, among other things.

“The outfall is over a kilometre offshore at 60 metres depth and we collect mussels immediately after the outfall, 200 metres, 400 metres, up to 800 metres away,” says Chris Lowe, CRD Environmental Monitoring Program supervisor.

“The concentration of drugs and other contaminants decrease quickly as you get further away from the outfall and within four to 800 metres, they’re dropping to background levels,” adds Lowe.

Two weeks ago, a study called ‘Pollution Tracker’ ranked Victoria’s Inner Harbour as the most polluted ocean waterway in the province.

“The area is shallow, it’s a vulnerable receiving environment, and as a result, any pollutants that enter into the Victoria harbour are less likely to be buried in the sediments,” says Coastal Ocean Research Institute’s Dr. Peter Ross.

On a scale that goes up to 51, the Victoria harbour getting scores of just one to five.

The CRD is asking residents do their part by bringing their over the counter and prescription medication to local pharmacies to be disposed of properly and at no cost.

“There isn’t a lot of data on the impact of marine organisms but there have been lab studies that have shown some pharmaceuticals have impacts on organisms like mussels. For example, antidepressants have been shown to affect reproduction in bivalves,” adds Lowe.

With the completion of a sewage treatment facility on the horizon, Lowe says the future is much brighter.

“We expect once treatment’s turned on in 2020 that we’ll see less and less of these compounds in the environment.”


Isabelle RaghemIsabelle Raghem

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