Study Finds Sunscreen Chemicals, Antibiotics, & Endocrine-Disrupting Hormones in Chesapeake Oysters

Bay Journal article (2019-09-11) reported that researchers from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County have found ultraviolet (IV) ray filtering chemicals from sunscreen products, as well as antibiotics and endocrine-disrupting hormones in Chesapeake Bay oysters. The findings present another challenge to oyster and Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts and raise human health concerns.

The article noted that the contaminants are introduced into the water system through shower and sink drains and end up in both Bay water and sediment. Oysters ingest the contaminated water and sediment as part of their normal feeding and filtration process. The long-term effects on both oyster and human health are unknown.

The study was led by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, in conjunction with the University of Maryland School of Medicine, United States Forest Service, and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The study was funded by the National Science Foundation and Maryland Sea Grant.

The article indicated that researchers collected water, sediment, and shellfish from two sites in the Chester River and 12 sites from the Manokin River, Holland Straits, and Kitts Creek. From the article:

“Every day, we use these specialty chemicals, like antibiotics, like sunscreens, to improve our personal health, and these molecules go down the drain and eventually get discharged out into the Chesapeake Bay,” said Lee Blaney, the study’s lead author and an associate professor of chemical, biochemical and environmental engineering. …

“These results emphasize the need to investigate the potential toxicity of estrogenic hormones and UV-filters to ensure the sustainability of not only oyster populations, but also restoration efforts in the Chesapeake Bay,” their paper concluded. “As Chesapeake Bay oysters are widely consumed by humans, the occurrence of these priority [contaminants] in oyster tissue, along with the continuous exposure to diverse antibiotics, also raises potential human health concerns.” …

“We’re not trying to tell people, ‘Hey, don’t wear sunscreen!’” Blaney said, because those compounds help prevent skin cancer. Rather, he said, he hopes research will prompt the public and policy makers to consider the environmental and health implications of chemicals used widely in food, cosmetics and other personal care products.