Pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs) in natural waters can affect the shape of the body and scales of fish – researchers from the Hungarian University of Agriculture and Life Sciences (MATE) have stated, based on water and fish samples taken from small watercourses in the Budapest Metropolitan Area. Examination of imperceptible deformations using new types of data can help estimate the environmental risks of micropollutants. The study was carried out as part of an NVKP project led by the ELKH Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences, with the additional participation of the Centre for Ecological Research.

“The current wastewater treatment technologies are unable to remove drug residues, which means these residues can pass through wastewater treatment plants more or less unhindered. As a result, we were able to detect 54 different active substances in the water samples taken from the small watercourses of the Budapest agglomeration. However, in the framework of this complex project, we were also curious to see if there was any correlation between the presence of the pharmaceutically active compounds and the shape of the fish in the given watercourse,” emphasizes Dr. Ádám Staszny, an expert at the MATE Institute of Aquaculture and Environmental Safety.

According to the results published in the prestigious journal PeerJ on February 11, four of the detected active substances were clearly found to cause changes in the shape of fish. These were the antidepressant drug citalopram, propranolol for cardiovascular disease, codeine for rheumatic pain, and trimetazidine for coronary heart disease.

“These PhACs have been found in very low concentrations (typically at the ngL-1 level) in natural waters, which means that they have a negligible effect on human health. However, their mixtures did have an effect on fish,” points out Dr. Staszny. He added that further studies are needed to understand the exact mechanism of the phenomenon uncovered, but it seems that the new method may also be promising in relation to ecotoxicological practice.

The study was supported by the National Competitiveness and Excellence Program, Hungary (project number: NVKP_16-1-2016-0003, project leader: Dr. Attila Csaba Kondor). In the framework of the project, the researchers led by the Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences (CSFK) investigated measurable PhACs concentrations and their possible risks in the waters of the Budapest Metropolitan Area. The research focusing on fish was coordinated by the Department of Freshwater Fish Ecology, MATE Institute of Aquaculture and Environmental Safety (coordinators: Dr. András Weiperth and Vera Juhász) under the leadership of Dr. Árpád Ferencz.