Grilling season is here, but you might want to think twice before skewering up some shrimp this summer — those tasty crustaceans may be toxic. Scientists studying rivers in the United Kingdom say every single sample of shrimp they examined tested positive for cocaine and lidocaine. Other drugs, such as ketamine and opioids, were also found in the shrimp. Many of the shellfish examined also tested positive for pesticides that are banned in the U.K. and other potentially hazardous chemicals.
But the U.K. is not the only place riddled with drug-infested shrimp. Drugged-up shellfish are becoming an international issue. Crustaceans are clearly not buying their own cocaine, and as scientists explain, the sudden uptick in contaminated sea critters is yet another sign that humans are polluting the environment.
Cocaine shrimp and pesticide prawns
Scientists from the U.K. just published research in the journal Environmental Researchwhich shows how badly contaminated local rivers really are. Freshwater shrimp were collected at 15 different sites along five Suffolk County rivers. Suffolk County is a rural area north of London.
The researchers say the drugs most likely made their way into the ecosystem through human consumption.
In a press release, study co-author Leon Barron said of the findings, “Such regular occurrence of illicit drugs in wildlife was surprising. We might expect to see these in urban areas such as London, but not in smaller and more rural catchments. The presence of pesticides which have long been banned in the U.K. also poses a particular challenge as the sources of these remain unclear.”
Study leader Dr. Thomas Miller adds that while the concentrations of contaminants detected were relatively low, they were “able to identify compounds that might be of concern to the environment and crucially, which might pose a risk to wildlife.”
The scientists say they were not able to come to any conclusions on what effects drug and pesticide pollution will have on shrimp (and the animals which eat them). However, one can surmise that regular exposure to dangerous contaminants such as these, even in small amounts, probably isn’t good. Pesticides can be especially harmful to delicate marine environments — and potent drugs like cocaine, ketamine and opioids probably aren’t going to do wildlife any favors, either.
Global crustacean contamination
The presence of all these pollutants in rural waters should be highly concerning — especially given that there has been an increase in contaminated shellfish around the world.
As Business Insider reports, traces of drugs have been found in shellfish harvested from the U.K., Canada and the U.S. Studies have also shown that exposure to these drugs, even in small amounts, can be harmful to sea life.
Just last year, scientists found that mussels collected from the Seattle area were riddled with oxycodone, antidepressants, and chemotherapy drugs. Scientists posited that the mussels were feeding on contaminated human waste.
“You wouldn’t want to collect (and eat) mussels from these urban bays,” study co-author Andy James said in a press release at the time.
As if marine life didn’t face enough of a threat from toxic pesticides and harmful drugs, plastic is another major issue that threatens oceans and rivers alike.
While seafood is often lauded for its health benefits, it is growing increasingly clear that much of it really isn’t safe. Thanks to poor environmental practices and escalating drug use, our waterways may never be the same.