Pharmaceuticals and personal care products in the environment: Wikis


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A Vervet Monkey with a stolen box of Asprin that was not securely stored.

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) are substances used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons and the products used by agribusiness to boost growth or health of livestock. PPCPs have been detected in water bodies throughout the world. The effects of these chemicals on humans and the environment are not yet known, but to date there is no scientific evidence that they have an impact on human health.[1]



"Pharmaceuticals", or prescription and over-the-counter medications made for human use or veterinary or agribusiness purposes, are common PPCPs found in the environment.[2] Antibiotics, nutraceuticals (e.g., vitamins), supplements, and sexual enhancement drugs are contained in this group. "Personal care products" may include cosmetics, fragrances, menstrual care products, lotions, shampoos, soaps, toothpastes, and sunscreen. These products typically enter the environment when passed through or washed off the body and into the ground or sewer lines, or when disposed of in the trash, septic tank, or sewage system.[1]

Illicit drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine are another type of PPCP. The manufacturers of these products may accidentally spill or purposefully dump harmful byproducts directly into the environment. Drug users also introduce these substances into the environment when handling drugs and when the substances pass through their bodies and into a septic tank or sewage system.[3] Traces of illicit drugs can be found in waterways and may even be carried by money.[4]

Entry and presence in the environment

Methods of PPCP entry into the environment from residential homes via septic and sewage systems.[5]

PPCPs enter into the environment through individual human activity and as residues from manufacturing, agribusiness, veterinary use, and hospital and community use. Individuals may add PPCPs to the environment through waste excretion and bathing as well as by directly disposing of unused medications to septic tanks, sewers, or trash. Because PPCPs tend to dissolve relatively easily and do not evaporate at normal temperatures, they often end up in soil and water bodies.

Some PPCPs are broken down or processed easily in use by a human or animal body or degrade quickly in the environment . However, others do not break down or degrade easily. The likelihood that an individual substance will break down depends on its chemical makeup.[1]

A study by the U.S. Geological Survey report published in 2002 [6] found detectable quantities of PPCPs in 80 percent of a sampling of 139 susceptible streams in 30 states. The most common pharmaceuticals detected were steroids and nonprescription drugs; detergents, fire retardants, pesticides, natural and synthetic hormones, and an assortment of antibiotics and prescription medications were also found.[7]

Manufacturing of these products contributes to environmental pollution and the packaging of PPCPs often becomes waste.



Research has shown that PPCPs are present in water bodies throughout the world. While some studies have suggested that these substances cause ecological harm, no studies have shown a direct impact on human health. More research is needed to determine the effects on humans of long-term exposure to low levels of PPCPs. The full effects of mixtures of low concentrations of different PPCPs is also unknown.[8]


While the full effects of most PPCPs on the environment are not understood, there is concern about the potential they have for harm because they may act unpredictably when mixed with other chemicals from the environment or concentrate in the food chain. Additionally, some PPCPS are active at very low concentrations, and are often released continuously in large or widespread quantities.

Because of the high solubility of most PPCPs, aquatic organisms are especially vulnerable to their effects. Researchers have found that a class of antidepressants may be found in frogs and can significantly slow their development. The increased presence of estrogen and other synthetic hormones in waste water due to birth control and hormonal therapies has been linked to increased feminization of exposed fish and other aquatic organisms.[9] The chemicals within these PPCP products could either affect the feminization or masculinization of different fishes, therefore impacting their reproductive rates.[10]In addition to being found only in waterways, the ingredients of some PPCPs can also be found in the soil. Since some of these substances take a long time or cannot be degraded biologically, they make their way up the food chain. Information pertaining to the transport and fate of these hormones and their metabolites in dairy waste disposal is still being investigated, yet research suggest that the land application of solid wastes is likely linked with more hormone contamination problems. [11]Not only does the pollution from PPCPs affect marine ecosystems, but also those habitats that depend on this polluted water.

Proper Disposal

Depending on the source and ingredients, there are various ways in which the public can dispose of pharmaceutical and personal care products. In the case of pharmaceutical products, the most environmentally safe one is to take advantage of a community drug take-back programs that collect drugs at a central location for proper disposal. These programs should exist in every community, and if further information is required on the matter the city officials should be contacted.[12]The Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of National Drug Policy further emphasize that if no program is available to follow the subsequent measurements:(1)take the prescription drugs out of their original containers (2) mix drugs with cat litter or used coffee grounds (3) place the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as a sealable bag (4) cover up any personal identification with a black marker that is on the original pill containers (5)place these containers in the bag with the mixture, seal them, and place them in the trash. After these products are properly disposed, the process of treating them for minimizing environmental impact begins. Water treatment facilities use different processes in order to minimize or fully eliminate the amount of these pollutants. This is done by using sorption where suspended solids are removed by sedimentation.[13] Another method used is biodegradation, and through this method microorganisms, such as bacteria, feed or break down these pollutants thus eliminating them from the contaminated media.

Current research

Widespread concern about and research into the effect of PPCPs has largely occurred since the 1990s. Until this time, PPCPs were largely ignored because of their relative solubility and containment in waterways compared to conventional pollutants like agrochemicals, industrial chemicals, and industrial waste and byproducts.[14]

Current research on PPCPs aims to answer these questions:[15]

  • What is the impact of exposure to low levels of PPCPs over time?
  • What is the impact of exposure to mixtures of chemicals?
  • Are the impacts acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term)?
  • Are certain populations, such as the elderly, very young, or immuno-compromised, more vulnerable to the impacts of these compounds?

Research fields


Pharmacoenvironmentology is a branch of pharmacology and a form of pharmacovigilance (pharmecovigilance)[16] concerning entry of chemicals or drugs into the environment after elimination from humans and animals post-therapy. It deals specifically with those pharmacological agents that have impact on the environment via elimination through living organisms subsequent to pharmacotherapy.[17][18][19]


Ecopharmacology concerns the entry of chemicals or drugs into the environment through any route and at any concentration disturbing the balance of ecology (ecosystem), as a consequence. Ecopharmacology is a broad term that includes studies of “PPCPs” irrespective of doses and route of entry into environment.

See also


  1. ^ a b c U.S. EPA. Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products. Accessed 16 March 2009.
  2. ^ K. Kümmerer. Pharmaceuticals in the Environment – A Brief Summary. In: Kümmerer, Klaus (Ed.). Pharmaceuticals in the Environment (ISBN 978-3-540-74663-8), 3rd Edition: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, 2008: 3-21
  3. ^ Cone, M. "One big drug test: Analyzing a city's sewage can put a number on its vices." Los Angeles Times, published 23 June 2008. Accessed 20 April 2009.
  4. ^ Bohannon, J. "Hard Data on Hard Drugs, Grabbed From the Environment." Science Magazine, published 6 April 2007. Accessed 20 April 2009.
  5. ^Origins and Fate of PPCPs in the Environment.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed 20 April 2009.
  6. ^ Buxton, H.T. and Kolpin, D.W. “Pharmaceuticals, Hormones, and Other Organic Wastewater Contaminants in U.S. Streams.” U.S. Geological Survey, published June 2002. Accessed 19 April 2009.
  7. ^Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products in Drinking Water Supplies.” The Groundwater Foundation. Accessed 19 April 2009.
  8. ^ "Pharmaceuticals and personal care products in drinking water." American Water Works Association. Accessed 20 April 2009.
  9. ^ "Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment." Washington State University. Accessed 20 April 2009.
  10. ^ Siegrist, H., Ternes, T.A., Joss, A., (2004)Scrutinizing Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Wastewater Treatment Journal of Environmental Science & Technology,38 392A-399A Retrieved November 2, 2009 from
  11. ^ Zheng, W., Yates,S.R., Bradford, S.A. ( 2007) Analysis of Steroid Hormones in a Typical Dairy Waste Disposal System Journal of Environmental Science & Technology, 42, 530-535 Retrieved November 2, 2009 from cals.&author=&authors=&date=20070601&volume=41&issue=11&spage=3789&issn=0013936X.
  12. ^ Environmental Protection Agency (2009) Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs Environmental Protection Agency Website Retrieved on December 4th , 2009 from
  13. ^ Siegrist, H., Ternes, T.A., Joss, A., (2004)Scrutinizing Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Wastewater Treatment Journal of Environmental Science & Technology,38 392A-399A Retrieved November 2, 2009 from cals.&author=&authors=&date=20070601&volume=41&issue=11&spage=3789&issn=0013936X.
  14. ^Chemicals from Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products.” Water Encyclopedia. Accessed 20 April 2009.
  15. ^Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products: An Emerging Issue.” The Groudwater Foundation. Accessed 20 April 2009.
  16. ^ Daughton, Christian G; Ruhoy, Ilene Sue. The Afterlife of Drugs and the Role of PharmEcovigilance. Drug Safety 2008; 31(12): 1069-1082
  17. ^ SZ Rahman, RA Khan, V Gupta & Misbahuddin. Pharmacoenvironmentology – Ahead of Pharmacovigilance. In: Rahman SZ, Shahid M & Gupta A Eds. An Introduction to Environmental Pharmacology (ISBN # 978-81-906070-4-9). Ibn Sina Academy, Aligarh, India, 2008: 35-42
  18. ^ S Z Rahman, R A Khan, Varun Kumar, Misbahuddin, Pharmacoenvironmentology – A Component of Pharmacovigilance, Environmental Health 2007, 6:20 (24 Jul 2007)
  19. ^ Ilene Sue Ruhoy, Christian G. Daughton. Beyond the medicine cabinet: An analysis of where and why medications accumulate. Environment International 2008, Vol. 34 (8): 1157-1169

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