Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care
Products (PPCPs) in Drinking Water
Last year (2008) media attention was focused on the detection of
pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in drinking
water. PPCPs refer to a group of compounds that are used by
individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons. Consumer
products, such as fragrance, lotions, sun-screens, house
cleaning products, and others fall into this category. Also
included are human and veterinary drugs (prescription or over
PPCPs can be introduced into the environment in several
- Flushing unused medications down the toilet or sink.
- Rinsing personal hygiene and household cleaning products
down the drain.
- Excreting unabsorbed medications into the sewage system.
- Farm animals excreting veterinary drugs, including
hormones and antibiotics, into fields where they run off
into lakes and streams.
- Commercial improper disposal methods.
Because we now have the advanced technology to detect more
substances - at lower levels - than ever before, it is
important to remember that many compounds listed are being found
at extremely low levels, typically single-digit parts per
trillion (ppt). Drinking water standards are typically set in
the parts per billion range, which is 1000 times higher.
1 Part Per Million (ppm):
1 Part Per Billion (ppb):
- 1 inch to 16 miles
- 1 minute to 2 years
- 1 cent to $10,000
- 1 ounce to 31 tons
- 1 bad apple in 2,000 barrels
1 Part Per Trillion (ppt):
- 1 inch to 16,000 miles
- 1 second to 32 years
- 1 cent to $10 million
- 1 pinch of salt to 10 tons of potato chips
- 1 bad apple in 2 million barrels
- 1 inch to 16 million miles (A six-inch leap on a journey
to the Sun)
- 1 second in 320 centuries
- 1 cent to $10 billion
- 1 pinch of salt to 10,000 tons of potato chips
- 1 bad apple in 2 billion barrels
Although these compounds are detected at
very low levels in source waters, people expose themselves to
these same compounds on a regular basis and in much higher
concentrations, through medicines, food and beverages and other
personal care products. Their impact on human health at these
low levels has not been demonstrated.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains an active
program called the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) to identify
contaminants in public drinking water that warrant detailed
study. While the CCL does not currently include any PPCPs, EPA
will likely consider these compounds in the future.
Water professionals also are researching the effectiveness of
current treatment techniques on removal of PPCPs and other
organic compounds. Because of the wide array of chemical
structures and properties associated with PPCPs, no one single
treatment can remove them all. Technologies under investigation
include membranes and GAC which physically remove compounds and
ozone or UV which break them down.
NEVER flush unneeded or expired
medications down a toilet or drain, especially if you use a
Find out if any pharmacies in your
community will take back unneeded or expired medications, or
if a take-back program exists in your community.
If no other disposal options exist,
alter the medications in some way and place them in the
trash. Opinions on altering medications vary â€“ some believe
the medications should be simply made unpalatable or
undesirable to prevent accidental ingestion, while others
believe they should be made totally unusable.
If the medications will be landfilled,
they should be left in their original containers to reduce
seepage, making sure all identifying information has been
removed. Add something to the medication to make it unusable
(kitty litter to liquid medications, glue to pills, or a
small amount of disinfectant to any medication) or
unpalatable (a small amount of water to pills or salt, flour
or a powdered spice like mustard or turmeric to liquid
medications). Package in an obscure container such as an
empty margarine tub or non-transparent bag and place it in
Use products sparingly, completely, and
according to label recommendations.
Unneeded products are best disposed of
by landfilling. Leave products in their original containers.
When purchasing new products, avoid
unnecessary ingredients, such as scents or those labeled
Consider using products with
ingredients that are more likely to biodegrade harmlessly in
the environment, such as those with ingredients like
vinegar, lemon juice, or baking soda.
For more information about
Please contact the Water Quality division at 480-644-6461.