A group of researchers have suggested that gadolinium MRI contrast dyes are accumulating in certain marine ecosystems, which could ultimately have consequences for human health.
Gadolinium is used in MRI contrast dyes to improve the visibility of organs, tumors, and blood vessels on imaging scans. Once injected into a patient, most gadolinium is filtered through the kidneys and passed from the body via urine. As such, gadolinium eventually makes it way to freshwater reservoirs or oceans via municipal sewer systems.
In fact, traces of gadolinium were discovered in the North Sea in the 1990s. It’s also shown up in rivers and other waters in Australia, Japan, France, and the United States.
According to paper recently published in Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Polish scientists used several techniques to try to determine the extent of gadolinium contamination in marine environments. They noted that naturally-occuring gadolinium (Gd) in river waters was estimated at about 1 to 4 ng/L. However, their analysis found levels as high as 181 ng/L in river in Europe, the United States, South Korea, and Japan. Regions with the highest-developed medical systems had river systems with the highest level of gadolinium concentration.
“Further researcher shows that even aquatic plants and organisms are able to take up Gd from water solutions,” the study authors wrote. “Because of negative effects for humans, these observations are important because Gd complexes may reach the human food chain via terrestrial plants growing in areas irrigated with polluted water or plants and animals growing in contaminated aquatic ecosystems.”
There are currently 8 gadolinium-based MRI contrast dyes approved for sale in the United States:
For years, it was thought that the only side effect associated with their use was a disorder called Nephrogenic System Fibrosis, which has only ever been seen in patients with end-stage kidney disease who had been administered such agents.
However, in December 2017, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) warned that gadolinium deposits could be retained in the body for weeks, months, and even years following an MRI. The agency has ordered the manufacturers of gadolinium-based agents to add new warnings to their product labels regarding the potential for retention. The companies have also been directed to conduct clinical trials to help the FDA better understand the health risks that may be associated with the presences of gadolinium deposits in the body.
A growing number of MRI contrast dye lawsuits claim that gadolinium retention can result in a serious and potentially disabling disorder called Gadolinium Deposition Disease. Symptoms of this disorder allegedly include:
Plaintiffs further claim that the manufacturers of MRI contrast agents had long been aware of the potential for gadolinium retention, but failed to provide doctors and patients with adequate warnings regarding this risk.