Drugs and Personal Care Products Polluting Water

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs): Are your personal habits and lifestyle contributing to contaminated drinking water?

Consumer Focus

Scientific Focus

Consumer Focus

What are "PPCPs"?

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products as Pollutants (PPCPs) refers, in general, to any product used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons or used by agribusiness to enhance growth or health of livestock. PPCPs comprise a diverse collection of thousands of chemical substances, including prescription and over-the-counter therapeutic drugs, veterinary drugs, fragrances, lotions, and cosmetics.

What are the major sources of PPCPs in the environment?

Sources of PPCPs:

  • Human activity (e.g., bathing, shaving, swimming)

  • Illicit drugs

  • Veterinary drug use, especially antibiotics and steroids

  • Agribusiness

  • Residues from pharmaceutical manufacturing (well defined and controlled)

  • Residues from hospitals

The importance of individuals adding chemicals to the environment has been largely overlooked. The discovery of PPCPs in water and soil shows even simple activities like shaving, using lotion, or taking medication affect the environment in which you live.

People contribute PPCPs to the environment when:

  • medication residues pass out of the body and into sewer lines,

  • externally-applied drugs and personal care products they use wash down the shower drain, and

  • unused or expired medications are placed in the trash.

Personal use and manufacturing of illicit drugs are a less visible source of PPCPs entering the environment.

Many of the issues pertaining to the introduction of drugs to the environment from human usage also pertain to veterinary use, especially for antibiotics and steroids.

The discharge of pharmaceuticals and synthesis materials and by-products from manufacturing are already well defined and controlled.

This poster shows a generalized synopsis of the sources of PPCPs in the environment.

What is the overall scientific concern?

Studies have shown that pharmaceuticals are present in our nation's waterbodies. Further research suggests that certain drugs may cause ecological harm. More research is needed to determine the extent of ecological harm and any role it may have in potential human health effects. To date, scientists have found no evidence of adverse human health effects from PPCPs in the environment.

Reasons for concern:

Large quantities of PPCPs can enter the environment after use by individuals or domestic animals.

  • Sewage systems are not equipped for PPCP removal. Currently, there are no municipal sewage treatment plants that are engineered specifically for PPCP removal or for other unregulated contaminants. Effective removal of PPCPs from treatment plants varies based on the type of chemical and on the individual sewage treatment facilities.

  • The risks are uncertain. The risks posed to aquatic organisms, and to humans are unknown, largely because the concentrations are so low. While the major concerns have been the resistance to antibiotics and disruption of aquatic endocrine systems (the system of glands that produce hormones that help control the body's metabolic activity) by natural and synthetic sex steroids, many other PPCPs have unknown consequences. There are no known human health effects from such low-level exposures in drinking water, but special scenarios (one example being fetal exposure to low levels of medications that a mother would ordinarily be avoiding) require more investigation.

  • The number of PPCPs are growing. In addition to antibiotics and steroids, over 100 individual PPCPs have been identified (as of 2007) in environmental samples and drinking water.


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