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In The News: US Opioids are Flowing Downstream, Into Our Fish

Hey there, ecoSPEARS readers! We hope you all had a safe Memorial Day weekend. While Memorial Day is a time for reflection across the county for the sacrifice our armed forces have paid for our freedom, so to is today’s blurb a reflection on the problems communities in our country still face to achieve a cleaner future. This week’s post will highlight three news articles, all from areas and regarding issues our regular readers will be familiar with. Now…on with the news.

If you have tuned in to the news anytime in the last few months in the US, it is more than likely possible that you have seen headlines regarding the ongoing opioid crisis in our country. As irony would have it, the opioid crisis is one not only facing the human populations in the States. An article published last week showed that Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife have now found evidence to conclude the opioid epidemic has reached our marine life.

One of our blurbs from earlier this month highlighted the importance of freshwater mussels in our ecosystem and their use by scientists as a “pulse” on the health of freshwater marine life. This is due to mussels’ ability as “filter feeders” to absorb high concentrations of contaminants from their environment. It turns out that a potent enough presence of oxycodone in Puget Sound is strong enough for mussels and other freshwater shellfish there to test positive for the drug in three of the eighteen locations sampled for testing.

Prescription opioids such as Hydrocodone and Vicodin have reported widespread contributions to the US’s opioid crisis.

“While mussels likely don’t metabolize drugs like oxycodone, and thus wouldn’t necessarily be physically harmed by the presence of it in their tissues, studies show that fish are not so lucky,” the article continues. “Scientists at the University of Utah discovered that, if given the opportunity, Zebrafish will willingly dose themselves with opioids…salmon and other fish might have a similar response.”

Although Memorial Day weekend is over, officials warned boaters last week of equipment hazards around the Fox River area of Green Bay due to dredging. “What’s remarkable,” according the dredging crews who have worked on PCB remediation in the area for the better part of a decade is that, “since the project began…there has not been one serious accident.”

Signs, flags, and various other markers along Fox River enable dredge crews to alert the public where equipment, including underwater pipes and the occasional certified diver, may be located. These markers urge boaters to keep distance from the area so that remediation work on the river may continue smoothly and without incidence. It has been said that congestion along the river, particularly as summer approaches, is “inevitable” but the safety of civilians remains paramount to both municipal and remedial officials in the area.

Our third and final article of the week comes again out of Minden, WV. Regular readers to our blog are likely all-too-familiar with the history and contamination issues in and around Minden, the “most toxic town” in the US. An article from the Register Herald last week said that the crews working on the controversial sewer project in Fayette County regarding PCB contamination in Oak Hill will not be moving PCB-contaminated soil out of Minden, according to Oak Hill City Manager Bill Hannabass.

Sign outside a Minden home warning passersby of toxic PCB contamination in the area.

The statement comes on the heels of reports of damage to a submerged tank earlier this month. Material in the tank has reportedly not testing for PCBs according the West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, and that the tank could predate Shaffer – the Potentially Responsible Party for much of Minden’s PCB contamination. “Soil that is not suspected [of PCB contamination] is treated as any other fill dirt,” Hannabass said.

The City of Oak Hill, WV recently annexed Minden, WV and the Shaffer site as part of a deal with WVDEP to gain $23M from WVDEP to upgrade two sewer plants in the Minden area, as part of ongoing remediation efforts in the area. Oak Hill officials stand by their claim that these efforts pose no additional risk to site workers or Minden residents.

And that’s all for this week, readers! Please be sure to check back to our blog every Tuesday for weekly news updates on articles and headlines in the environmental world you may have otherwise missed. Until next time!

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For more information on the organizations and agencies listed in this article, please click the following links:

Washing Department of Fish and Wildlife

Fox River Remediation Project

City of Oak Hill, WV


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