Study Looks At Ecological Effects Of Amphetamines In Streams | WAMC

Study Looks At Ecological Effects Of Amphetamines In Streams

Aug 29, 2016

A study believed to be the first of its kind explores the ecological consequences of amphetamines in streams. It was co-authored by a scientist in the Hudson Valley.


Freshwater ecologist and report co-author Dr. Emma Rosi-Marshall is with the Millbrook-based Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.

“We wanted to embark on this study to understand what, in particular, amphetamine might do to the  organisms that live in rivers and streams,” says Rosi-Marshall.

The study was conducted at streams in Baltimore and at the Cary Institute’s artificial stream facility. Rosi-Marshall says algae and insects were collected from Wappinger Creek.

“We added amphetamine to four streams that had algae and aquatic insects in them and then we had four streams as control, or reference. And then what we did is we measured the ecological effects of that amphetamine that we added to the streams to aquatic algae and aquatic insects,” says Rosi-Marshall. “And what we found was that the primary production, so the growth of the algae was suppressed when we exposed them to amphetamine and that the composition in the what we call the biofilms — which is the sort of slick, slimy stuff on tops of rocks, but that’s composed of diatoms, which are single-celled algae and bacteria — we found that the composition of those communities was altered when we added amphetamines.”

And there’s another finding.

“In addition to the biofilm response, the aquatic insect emergence, so when aquatic insects go from larvae to adults, they emerge and they become flying aerial adults, we found that more of them emerged from the amphetamine-treated streams than the control streams,” Rosi-Marhall says.

Rosi-Marshall says the combination of aging wastewater infrastructure and escalating pharmaceutical and illicit drug use could take a toll on freshwater resources.

“The importance of this study is that we found that the concentrations of amphetamine that can be present in certain streams has the potential to affect the ecology of surface waters,” says Rosi-Marshall.

She says pharmaceuticals and personal care products are in surface waters around the world. However, assessing their ecological consequences is a newer endeavor and much more research needs to be done, including on the following.

“And so we’re trying to understand not just drugs by themselves but combinations of drugs and how they might affect the ecology of aquatic ecosystems,” Rosi-Marshall says.

Dan Shapley is water quality program manager at environmental group Riverkeeper.

“I think these are really exciting, important results and that they give us some new understanding of how the pharmaceuticals that are entering our streams are having an ecological affect,” Shapley says. “And that is certainly something that we are concerned about and we want to know more about because we know there are a lot of different types of pharmaceuticals in the water.”

The amphetamine study comes more than a month after a first-of-its-kind study on micropollutants found in the Hudson River estuary. That study, which detected products from pesticides to pharmaceuticals, was from two scientists from the Cornell University School of Civil and Environmental Engineering in partnership with Riverkeeper.