Traces of cocaine, other illicit drugs found in Ontario water’s supply

Fish in Toronto may have a cocaine problem.

Researchers at McGill University have discovered traces of prescription and illicit drugs — including cocaine and oxycodone — in Ontario wastewater and in the surface waters of the Grand River watershed.

The Grand River flows through Kitchener-Waterloo, but the study’s lead author, Viviane Yargeau, is confident similar drugs would be found in rivers across the province, including the Don or the Humber.

“The results would be the same,” she said. “Wherever we’ve tested for it, we’ve detected it.”

The drugs arrive in the water after being excreted by people, Yargeau said. Cocaine is the most common illicit substance her team found, but the precise cocktail varies from location to location.

The problem, according to Yargeau, is that we have little understanding of how these drugs impact the environment.

“We don’t have much information about the toxicity or effect of these illicit drugs on fish, for example,” she said. “There’s a possibility that the fish could be affected. Their behaviour could be different and their survival rates could be affected.”

It’s not just a problem for fish. The study also found traces of illicit drugs in our drinking water.

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