Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products
Egyptians drinking water
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products, sometimes abbreviated PPCPs, are a very broad group of compounds consisting of every human and veterinary medicine, including hormones, and consumer products such as fragrances, lotions, sunscreens, housecleaning products and others.
Humans are most commonly exposed to PPCPs through medications and daily personal care routines. However, these compounds have been also detected in trace amounts in surface water, drinking water and wastewater effluent in both Europe and the United States. PPCPs can be introduced into the environment in several ways:
  • After we take medications, some of the compounds pass through our bodies and into the wastewater system.
  • We use personal hygiene products and household cleaning agents that are washed down the drain.
  • Unused medications are flushed down the toilet or dumped in the sink.
  • Farm animals excrete veterinary drugs, including hormones and antibiotics, into fields where they run off into lakes and streams.
  • Commercial operations sometimes improperly dispose of PPCPs.
The best and most cost-effective way to ensure safe water at the tap is to keep our source waters clean. As a society, we should encourage policies that protect source water from contaminants introduced by human activity. Consumers should never flush unused medications down toilets or sinks. Instead, consumers should check to see if their pharmacy accepts medications for disposal, or contact their local health department for information about proper disposal of medications and other materials that could potentially harm the environment, such as cleaning products, pesticides and automotive products.
To date, research throughout the world has not demonstrated an impact on human health from the trace amounts of hormones or other pharmaceuticals and personal care products found in drinking water.

While these trace substances may be detected at very low levels in source waters, people regularly consume or expose themselves to products containing these substances in much higher concentrations through medicines, food and beverages and other sources. The level in which they are found in source waters is very small in comparison.

PPCPs are fairly common in our society and environment and come from many sources. Research on health effects for humans from PPCPs has focused on two areas:
  • Possible cumulative effects from long-term exposure to very low levels.
  • Reactions that differ from the intended purpose of PPCPs, which may occur when compounds from multiple medications interact.
As part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule testing, water systems are working with EPA to determine how prevalent PPCPs are in U.S. drinking water supplies and at what levels they appear. Under the recent round of UCMR3 testing, many water systems nationwide tested for PPCPs.

Contact your public water system to learn more about pharmaceutical and personal care product testing and results. You can usually find contact information for your public water system on your water bill.
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water are not currently regulated in the United States. 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. The most recent Contaminant Candidate List, CCL3, finalized on Sept. 22, 2009, for the first time included 10 pharmaceutical compounds.

Additionally, seven hormones are currently being monitored under EPA’s Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule. The seven hormones that are being monitored under UCMR3 include: estradiol, ethynylestradiol (ethinyl estradiol), hydroxyestradiol (estriol), equilin, estrone, testosterone and 4-androstene-3,17-dione.
It is possible that EPA will decide to regulate some or all of the PPCPs monitored in UCMR3 in the future. EPA will examine both potential health risks and the UCMR3 occurrence data when determining if these compounds should be regulated. EPA’s decision to regulate is based in large part on whether the UCMR3 testing shows a significant number of U.S. drinking water systems have concentrations of PPCPs at levels EPA finds to be a concern.
If you get your drinking water from a private well, you should have your water tested by a certified laboratory regularly. PPCPs are not contaminants typically measured; if you want to know if PPCPs are present in your well water you may contact one of the labs on the UCMR3 laboratory list for information on how to sample and where to send samples for analysis. Additional information about well water testing from EPA is available on their private drinking water well FAQ page.
Water professionals 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 granulated activated carbon, which physically remove compounds, and ozone or UV, which break them down.
Bottled water quality can vary. Bottled water in the United States is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is required to meet standards equal to the EPA’s tap water standards. There are also individual state standards. However, in most cases, you must contact the bottled water manufacturer for information about contaminant levels.