Experts from the SINTEF Research Center, the Norwegian Polar Institute, and Svalbard International University collected samples of Arctic crustaceans near the settlement of Ny-Ålesund on the west coast of Svalbard. They found many drugs in different concentrations.

Drugs found in crustaceans include ibuprofen, diclofenac, various antibiotics, and antidepressants. SINTEF researcher Ida Bit Overjordet stated this.

The goal of the project is to study the human footprint in the natural world. Namely, to measure how much biological and chemical material is thrown away and how important it is. The results could affect how people manage the Arctic regions in the future.

The first thing the researchers noticed was the high levels of ibuprofen in all animals.

Ibuprofen is a widely used drug that has been in the environment for a long time compared to drugs like paracetamol, which often degrade quickly. So it was not such a surprising discovery. However, what really surprised us is that there is a high concentration of drugs in such a sparsely populated area.

Ida Bit Overjordet, SINTEF Explorer

Since crustaceans such as copepods occupy the lowest food pyramid levels, the compounds in the preparations will be transferred up the food chain to larger animals. Copepods form the backbone of much of life in the Arctic as they are rich in fats. They are essential for building and maintaining the fat reserves of Arctic fish and seabird species.

Likewise, finding traces of drugs like antibiotics and diclofenac was not all that strange since these drugs are also widely used. However, the discovery of antidepressants surprised scientists.

Ny-Ålesund is inhabited by service personnel and researchers from ten different countries. There are only 30 permanent residents here, but in the summer visiting scientists and seasonal workers can increase the population to 200 people. Everyone between the ages of 20 and 70 is generally healthy and in good health. There are also short-term tourists – most just for day trips.

Scientists plan to find out why the level of drugs in crustaceans went off the scale.

This research is part of a research project called PharmArctic, which is funded by the leading research program Miljøgifter at the Fram Research Center in Tromsø. The program aims to gain knowledge about the effects of environmental toxins on Arctic ecosystems and is exploring the links between the concentration of pharmaceuticals and beauty products and emissions from settlements and tourism in the Arctic.