Director Testifies on Pharmaceuticals Impact in Waterways

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Appearing today before the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) Executive Director John Arway described how fish and aquatic life are impacted by complex mixtures of pharmaceuticals and other compounds released into waste streams and found in runoff from landscapes and urged the public to properly dispose of expired and unused medications.

“Research beginning in 1999 first showed that chemicals found in medications were being absorbed by fish and were contributing factors to a number of fish health problems,” Arway said. “Perhaps the most troubling condition is intersex fish. This is where male fish develop female egg cells in their testis.”

Arway noted that the U.S. Geological Survey Fish Health Laboratory reported in 2013 that approximately 50 percent of male bass in the Delaware River had intersex condition, 10 percent in the Ohio River drainage were affected, and up to 100 percent of the males sampled in the Susquehanna River were found to have intersex. More recent samples in the Susquehanna confirm that 90–100 percent of male Smallmouth Bass have intersex condition and that this condition is more severe than found in other drainages.

“How can we as a society make progress in reducing pharmaceuticals from getting into our lakes, streams and rivers?” Arway said. “Removing unused pharmaceuticals from homes and providing proper disposal alternatives is an important first step in reducing the amount of compounds getting into lakes, rivers and streams. Improving wastewater treatment processes to provide more effective removal of medications is another effective solution.”

Last month, the PFBC announced that it had partnered with Geisinger Health System to install a drug take-back box in the agency’s Harrisburg headquarters to provide a way for citizens to safely dispose of unused medications and help improve the health of the Susquehanna River and its Smallmouth Bass.