Middlesex Water

Keep Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) Out of Our Drinking Water

Where do PPCPs come from?

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products, known in the water industry as PPCPs, are a group of compounds consisting of human and veterinary drugs (prescription or over the counter) and consumer products, such as fragrance, lotions, sun-screens, house cleaning products, and others. These compounds have been detected in trace amounts in surface water, drinking water and wastewater effluent sampling conducted in both Europe and the U.S.

PPCPs can be introduced into the environment in several ways, including:

  • 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.

Water professionals have the technology today to detect more substances - at lower levels - than ever before.  As analytical methods improve, many compounds such as those listed above 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.

The fact that a substance is detectable in drinking water does not mean the substance is harmful to humans.  To date, research throughout the world has not demonstrated an impact on human health from the trace amounts of PPCPs found in drinking water.

The water community is committed to protecting public health.  Water professionals are examining the occurrence of PPCPs in drinking water supplies and are paying close attention to health effects research in this area.

What can consumers do if they are concerned about substances in their drinking water?

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 toilet or sink.  Instead, consumers should check to see if their pharmacy accepts medications for disposal, if local programs such as household hazardous waste collection events accept these substances 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.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy offers the following guidelines concerning how to properly dispose of prescription drugs:

Take your prescription drugs out of their original containers.

  1. Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.
  2. Put this mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.
  3. Conceal or remove any personal information, including the prescription number, on the empty containers by covering it with black permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.
  4. Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash.