Rising use of antidepressants is turning our waters into a ‘drug soup’ and harming marine life, experts warn.
People in Britain use more antidepressants than almost every other country in the Western world.
But the drugs can cause havoc in the natural world after they pass out of the body of the person taking them in the form of urine and faeces and enter the water supply.
Effects include the chemicals causing limpets to lose their ability to cling to rocks, as well as shrimp swimming towards areas populated by predators.
One in six adults – more than seven million people in England alone – take antidepressants.
In the US, this number almost as high as a proportion of the total population at just over one in seven.
A league table of anti-depressants published last year put the UK at fourth of the 29 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, up from seventh in the year 2000.
Professor Alex Ford, of Portsmouth’s Institute of Marine Biology, said: ‘Our aquatic life is bathing in a soup of antidepressants.
‘Antidepressant and antianxiety medications are found everywhere, in sewage, surface water, ground water, drinking water, soil, and accumulating in wildlife tissues.
‘They are found in sea water and rivers and their potential ability to disrupt the normal biological systems of aquatic organisms is extensive.
‘This isn’t about a one-off pollutant entering their habitat; wildlife are bathed in drugs for their entire lifecycle.
‘Laboratory studies are reporting changes such as how some creatures reproduce, grow, the rate at which it matures, metabolism, immunity, feeding habits, the way it moves, its colour and its behaviour.’