By Clare Leschin-Hoar | April 7, 2014 5:18 PM

pharmaceuticals12As more people use antidepressants and excrete them into waterways, scientists are worried that residues of common medicines such as Prozac and Zoloft are harming aquatic life, according to recent studies.

Even when exposed to very small doses, shrimp become more active and quick. Freshwater snails have a harder time attaching to surfaces. Cuttlefish, prawns, and mussels experience color changes, and some spawn spontaneously, while minnows show signs of anxiety. Scientists warn that these changes are happening at even smaller concentration levels than previously thought.

University of Portsmouth marine biologist Alex Ford’s study on antidepressants and their impact on mollusks and crustaceans will be published this week in a special edition of the journal Aquatic Toxicology. Ford found effects on marine life can be seen at very low concentrations but said it’s difficult to prove the effects in the wild and emphasizes that all the studies done to date are laboratory studies.

Short of therapists and doctors talking to the fish about how they feel, spotting changes can be difficult.

“With antidepressants, very often the changes can be subtle behavioral changes which are hard to detect,” said Ford. Compare that with experimenting on male fish with estrogen, and “it’s a lot easier to see if a fish is changing sex than to detect abnormal behavior, when behavior can change very quickly.”

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