"It's telling me there's a lot of people taking oxycodone in the Puget Sound area", Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologists at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, told KIRO7.
But the potential presence of oxycodone in fish would be concerning, however, as they do metabolize opioids.
Surfactants, in particular, are "known to have estrogenic effect on organisms, so they affect the hormone system of some animals in an estrogenic way, such as feminizing male fish and making female fish reproductive before they're ready", Lanksbury explained. Pretty much whatever ends up in the sea eventually ends up in a mussel. "For instance, the juvenile Chinook salmon that are coming down the Duwamish River and into Elliott Bay for rearing are likely being exposed to these same chemicals".
Mussels in other parts of Puget Sound did not contain the opioids. In three out of 18 locations, the mussels tested positive for trace amounts of oxycodone, though none were found in areas where commercial fishing takes place. "It's these highly urbanized locations where we're starting to get concerned about the levels of pharmaceuticals and personal care products". "You wouldn't want to collect (and eat) mussels from these urban bays", James said.
Andy James, a research scientist at the PSI, noted in the statement that the levels of opioids detected in the mussels were thousands of times lower than a therapeutic dose in humans and would not be expected to affect the mussels, which don't break down the drug. In the process, "they pick up all sorts of contaminants, so at any given time their body tissues record data about water quality over the previous two to four months", the institute explains. "So you'd have to eat 150 pounds of mussels in that contaminated area to get a minimal dose", she told NBC affiliate KING-5.
It's just one of hundreds of pharmaceuticals that native mussels have absorbed from the waters of Puget Sound.