It turns out that fish are also helpless victims of smokers. No joke, as reported by Jeffrey Kluger for TIME:
For smokers, the world has always been one big ashtray, with cigarettes flicked away pretty much anywhere. That’s especially true now, since smokers are increasingly forbidden to light up in restaurants, office buildings and even new no-smoking condos. In the great river of litter human beings create each year, so tiny a thing as a cigarette butt hardly seems to amount to much. But with the world’s smokers burning through a breathtaking 5.6 trillion cigarettes per year — 4.5 trillion of which are simply tossed away outside after they’re smoked — little things add up fast. That, as it turns out, can be especially dangerous for one type of nonhuman critter: fish.
About a third of all of the trash found on U.S. shorelines consists of cigarette butts. There’s no such thing as good litter, but butts may be among the worst, since they’re impregnated with concentrated quantities of the 4,000 chemicals — many of them highly toxic — that occur naturally in tobacco and are added in the cigarette-manufacturing process. In a new paper published in the journal Tobacco Control, a team of researchers headed by Eli Slaughter of San Diego State University’s Graduate School of Public Health sought to determine the kind of harm those poisons can do.
Slaughter and his team broke cigarette waste down into three categories: smoked filters with some scraps of tobacco left; smoked filters with all of the tobacco burned or washed away; and unsmoked filters, which themselves contain a whole stew of chemicals. They immersed samples of each type of butt in separate 2-liter (.5 gal) containers of water and allowed them to soak. In some of the vessels, 16 butts were added to the water, in some 8, in some 4, 2, 1 or just a half a butt. After 24 hours, the butts were removed and fish were added.
The two types of fish the researchers chose for their study were the topsmelt and fathead minnow, both common in U.S. waterways. All of the fish were 14 days old or younger. What Slaughter and his team were looking for was what’s known as the LC50 — the lethal concentration of cigarette butt leachate in water that would kill 50% of the sample…
[continues at TIME]