Cocaine May Be Causing Eels in London's River Thames to Become 'Hyperactive'
The reality of this recently emerged when a team of researchers from King's College London (KCL) found a substantial concentration of cocaine and its metabolites in the River Thames near London. The Independent reported last year that research conducted by biologists at University of Naples Federico II indicates that environmental cocaine exposure (read: cocaine in the water) may make eels – which live in the Thames – exposed to the drug "hyperactive" and cause them to suffer substantial skeletal muscle injury. The Evening Standard reports that KCL researchers found that the cocaine enters the Thames through wastewater and sewage overflow events, which occur as often as once a week due to a growing population and a Victorian-era sewer system. Complicating matters is the appetite that Londoners seem to have for the devil's dandruff: a 2015 report indicated that London has Europe's highest concentration of cocaine in its sewage.
Although the Independent's headline – "Record cocaine levels in Thames probably not making fish high, experts say" – seemed to half-heartedly deny any effect on Thames eels, mainly due to the concentration differences between the Naples study and the Thames waters, the expert they consulted had fewer reservations in his assessment. "Drugs which affect us will almost always affect all animal life, and invertebrates a little bit more because their biochemistry is much more sensitive," SEA LIFE aquarium senior curator James Robsons told the Independent. "Essentially everything in the water will be affected by drugs like these. A lot of the triggers and the ways that cocaine affects the system is really primal."
Despite the severity of pharmaceutical pollution, however, Robson dismissed it as a major enviromental threat. "I would be much more concerned about things like climate change affecting the temperature and plastics pollution," he warned. "Those do much more significant damage to the ecosystem."