Shrimp cocktail – featuring ice-cold shrimp, tangy cocktail sauce and a slice of lemon – is a time-honored favorite of seafood lovers.
But, new research from the UK shows that shrimp from rivers near London are contaminated with a very different kind of “cocktail” – in this case, a toxic mix of chemicals featuring cocaine, pharmaceutical drugs and dangerous pesticides.
The new study, published in Environment International, showcases a dirty – and disturbing – trend in seafood. All over the world, scientists are finding chemical residues in shrimp, fish, mussels and eels – with frightening implications for human and environmental health.
Study ALERT: Shrimp in British rivers are universally contaminated with cocaine – along with dozens of other toxins
To conduct the study, scientists examined a species of local freshwater shrimp (Gammarus pulex) harvested from 15 sites in five different rivers in Suffolk County, a rural area northeast of London.
And what they found – traces of 56 different pollutants, toxins and drugs of abuse – was stomach-turning.
Shockingly, 100 percent of the shrimp contained trace amounts of cocaine – and this illicit drug accounted for the highest concentration of contaminants in the shrimp.
Also found was lidocaine – an anesthetic used by cocaine dealers to “cut” the product and boost profits – and ketamine, a veterinary tranquilizer used recreationally by humans for its psychotropic effects.
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In fact, the research yielded a sort of snapshot of medications used in the 21st-century.
Scientists also found the anti-anxiety drugs Xanax (alprazolam) and Valium (diazepam), along with propranolol – a common blood pressure medication – and diphenhydramine, a widely-used antihistamine.
The researchers speculated that the drugs were excreted in urine – which then flowed from sewage systems into surrounding aquatic environments. Traces of fenuron and atrazine – pesticides that have been banned in the UK – were also found.
Finally, the team detected microplastics – tiny plastic fragments which are currently being found in drinking water, sea salt, marine life and human beings the world over.
The disturbing results were unexpected, even for the researchers who conducted the study.
A study co-author called the presence of illicit drugs “surprising” – especially in light of the geography. “We might expect to see these in urban areas such as London, but not in smaller and more rural areas,” the researcher noted.
Researchers were also perplexed over the presence of pesticides that are no longer approved for use – and urgently called for further investigation.
Additional studies raise more alarm
While London’s sewage – and presumably their shrimp – has the highest concentration of cocaine of any European city, the drug contamination problem is not restricted to British shrimp.
A 2017 Canadian study found that shellfish that live close to sewage discharge sites contained triclosan, an antibacterial agent, and ibuprofren, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.
And, mussels in Seattle’s Puget Sound have been found to contain oxycodone – a powerful narcotic – along with antidepressants and heart medications.
“You wouldn’t want to eat mussels from these urban bays,” observed a study co-author. (An understatement, to say the least!)
Another disturbing study found that silver eels – already a critically endangered species – in the Thames River had enough cocaine in their systems to actually influence their behavior.
Researchers noted that the eels could become “hyperactive” as cocaine accumulated in muscles, brains and gills – and this from environmental concentrations that the researchers described as “low.”
The eels also had serious damage to skeletal muscles, including muscle breakdown and swelling.
Toxic imports: Researchers warn of dangers in Chinese seafood
In the United States, contamination in seafood from abroad is of particular concern.
Currently, 80 percent of the seafood consumed in America is imported – with much of it coming from Asian countries. Food safety experts say that the laws regulating seafood in these countries are either lax or difficult to enforce, leading to rampant health violations.
In one study, 43 percent of samples of Chinese seafood were found to contain multi-drug resistant strains of bacteria. In addition, researchers have found nitrofurans – a group of antibiotics – in Chinese shrimp, and fluroquinolones, a class of broad-spectrum antibiotics, in Chinese catfish.
Health tip: To avoid buying Chinese seafood, carefully peruse all labels to determine the country of origin. Watch out for such phrases as “prepared in,” “packed in,” or “imported by,” which can signal that fish was raised in one location and packaged in another).
Minimize exposure to toxins with Alaskan salmon
With fish and shrimp shown to be contaminated with drugs, microplastics, pesticides and heavy metals, it’s difficult to know how to safely access the substantial health benefits inherent in seafood.
In other words: what’s a seafood lover to do?
Most natural health experts agree that wild-caught Alaskan salmon is the safest bet.
With high levels of vitamins, minerals, anti-inflammatory omega fatty acids and antioxidants – including the carotenoid astaxanthin, which gives salmon flesh its distinctive pinkish-orange hue – wild-caught salmon is much safer and more nutritious than the farmed variety.
But research has shown that mislabeling of salmon – passing off inferior, farmed salmon as wild, or substituting pink salmon and chum for sockeye and king salmon – is a common practice.
In a report released by the non-profit conservation group Oceana, researchers found that 43 percent of samples of “wild-caught” salmon in restaurants and grocery stores were mislabeled. And, when they analyzed only fish prepared and served in restaurants, the picture was even worse.
The team found that 67 percent of salmon samples from restaurants were mislabeled – a practice which cheats the public, deprives honest fishermen of profits, and offers up a less-healthy meal.
To avoid mislabeled salmon, experts advise buying during the Alaskan harvest system (which runs April through September), as the odds of buying mislabeled fish are lower then.
The new research, which revealed a “witches’ brew” of toxins in freshwater shrimp, should serve as a warning bell for the worsening chemical contamination of oceans and waterways. No doubt, the planet deserves better.
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