Students at Chief Kitsap Academy caught salmon and crab, smoked and canned fish and shared their catch with tribal elders.

Mussels without thorns await testing Friday at a state lab on Shoreline. (Photo: Tad Sooter / Kitsap Sun)

BREMERTON, WASH. – Scientists already know that salmon swimming near Bremerton is exposed to doses of caffeine and cocaine.

There is now evidence that Bremerton's shellfish are ingesting opioid drugs.

Analysis of samples of mussels from Sinclair Inlet of Bremerton and Elliott Bay in Seattle revealed traces of oxycodone, a semi-synthetic opioid pain medication, along with a large number of other pharmaceuticals, according to researchers at the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife of the state and the Puget Sound Institute at the University of Washington-Tacoma.

"It's a reminder that what we consume on land ends up in the waters of Puget Sound."

Fish and Wildlife Biologist Jennifer Lanksbury

The amount of oxycodone found in the mussels did not pose a risk to human health and the mollusks were removed from areas not open for harvest. Still, Fisheries and Wildlife biologist Jennifer Lanksbury said the results are revealing, especially in light of the current opiate crisis.

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"It's a reminder that what we consume on land ends up in the waters of Puget Sound, "said Lanksbury.

Samples were taken as part of the state Puget Sound mussel monitoring program. Every two years, the uncontaminated mussels grown on Whidbey Island are transplanted to the monitoring sites around Puget Sound. After a few months, the shellfish are recovered and badyzed for toxins.

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"We want to see what types of contaminants are happening in Puget Sound and where they are occurring," he explained. Lanksbury.

The program generally focuses on fossil fuel hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB), flame retardants and other common toxins. Recently, researchers obtained funds to control the mussels in search of "emerging concern contaminants," which include medications and personal care products.

Puget Sound Institute scientists tested mussels collected in 2013 from 18 urban water bodies. Samples were found from three sites, two in Bremerton and one in Seattle, that contain oxycodone.

Lanksbury said that the amount of oxycodone present was so minute that a human would have to eat 150 pounds of the mussels to ingest even a mild dose medication. Shellfish were harvested from areas that are closed to harvest due to continued contamination and were not near commercial seafood growing areas.

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Oxycodone was far from the only drug discovered in seafood. The tests revealed antibiotics, several types of antidepressants and high levels of Melphalan, a chemotherapy drug. Andy James, from the Puget Sound Institute, presented the results of the study at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in April.

Pharmaceuticals are likely to enter the Sound from wastewater treatment plants, which do not remove all chemicals that are discharged into drains and toilets. A 2016 study found that Chinook salmon caught in Sinclair Inlet had ingested a dizzying amount of medication, as well as caffeine and cocaine.

Lanksbury said the mussels are an ideal "sentinel species" for the study of toxins, including pharmaceuticals. As feeding filters, the mussels gather and store compounds of water around them. And unlike fish, mussels can not metabolize drugs like opioids because they do not have liver.

"They are like small aquatic vacuums," Lanksbury said. "The mussels, for us, are a tool to monitor Puget Sound."

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The mussel monitoring program receives funding from the state, local governments, tribes and a coalition of incumbents of rainwater permits. The volunteers help distribute, recover and process the mussels.

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