Mussels Found Near Seattle Test Positive for Opioids

There is currently a rapid opioid epidemic in the United States, and now it is extending into the Pacific Ocean. This week it was discovered that shellfish tested from the Puget Sound area of Seattle, Wash., had tested positive for the opioid oxycodone.


The Puget Sound Institute at the University of Tacoma revealed this week that mussels from three of 18 tested locations near Seattle and Bremerton were found to test positive. That means that people in the Seattle area are consuming so many opioids that they aren’t being filtered out completely even after being treated at wastewater plants.

The sewage and waste from opioid consumers are run through the wastewater plant before being released into the ocean. The sewage and waste then contaminate the mussels that are in the water. The tests revealed that traces of oxycodone were found in the mussels.

Usually, these tests reveal positive results for pharmaceutical drugs, including illegal drugs such as cocaine. However, opioids were never tested previously, so there was no previous positive result as well.

“The level of oxycodone found in the mussels was much smaller than a therapeutic human dose. So you’d have to eat 150 pounds of mussels in that contaminated area to get a minimal dose,” according to Jennifer Lanksbury, a biologist at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In addition to opioids, the mussels tested were also found to have traces of heart drugs, antibiotics, a varied level of antidepressants, and the commonly used chemotherapy drug melphalan, which is also considered to be a toxic carcinogen.

Mussels exist to filter water and extract the nutrients, and they absorb small doses of ocean pollutants. These mussels are an efficient way to research and study the levels of pollutants in the oceans and where they come from.

All the mussels tested were found in dense, urban areas, so no commercial mussel farms were included, of which they exist to create a stable food source. Every two years, uncontaminated mussels are placed in the Puget Sound by scientists, and then tested for contaminants every three months.