Biology 1610

Pharmaceutical Drugs Contaminate Water

The biological impact of Pharmaceuticals and Personal care products (PPCPs) may be the new danger to people all around the world. These products people used on a daily basis are leaving behind bioactive chemical waste that endangers the environment and contaminates the water supplies.  The danger it pose to human is still unclear but one thing for certain is it in our water.

The Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care products or “PPCPs” term was first used in “Environmental Health Perspective Journal” to describe the wide and diverse collection of bioactive waste. These PPCPs waste comprised of prescription drugs, OTC drug, veterinary drug, therapeutic drugs, fragrances, cosmetics, sun-screened agents, diagnostic agents, nutraceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, growth enhancing chemicals and other chemical substances used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reason. PPCPs is different from other pollution waste because it’s a bioactive chemical, it’s has ability to affect living tissues.

The first major source of PPCPs comes from human activity.  Advance in medicine has brought millions of different drugs in helping people deal with everything from high cholesterol to depression and even restless leg syndromes. The problem with all of these drugs is that the human body doesn’t metabolize everything; the unmetabolized drug then is excreted d by the body through the urine, excrement and even sweat of the individual. Personal care products such as soap, cosmetic, sunscreen or topical medication is also released when the individual takes a shower.

The second source of PPCPs comes from hospital and Health care institution (nursing home). Left over, expired and unused medication is often disposed of by flushing down the toilet or the drain. Most of this is attributed to death of a patient, transfer of a patient or expiration of bulk medication. While hospital might have a policy of buy back medication with manufacturers, smaller health institutions don’t. The disposal of the drugs down the drain has often been the policy in the absent of such buyback policy.

Other source of PPCPs include Pharmaceutical manufacturers who dispose drug chemical and there byproduct into the waste sewer system. Industrial farming of animal has increased antibiotic and steroids drugs runoff from animal excrement into the environment. Illicit drug manufactures dumping of toxic chemical into drain.

Once these PPCPs enter the sewer system they might leaked into the surrounding soil because of corroded pipes or leak into an underground aquifer. The PPCPs that doesn’t leak is carried to the sewage treatment facility and turn either into sludge to be used for agriculture or gets treated and discharged into storm overflow system. The problem with this is the water treatment facilities is not prepared to treat pharmaceutical drugs in the water. This allows the PPCPs to get into the surface water and contaminated soil sediments.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey in 1999 and 2000 found 1 or more medications in 80% of water samples from a network of 139 streams. The USGS  study  in 2010 found  23% of the untreated  932 public wells  contaminated  with herbicides, insecticides, solvents, disinfection by products, nitrate and gasoline chemicals. Another USGS study found that wastewater treatment plants that service pharmaceutical manufacturers had a higher level of PPCPs outflow. The two waste water plants in New York that serve the pharmaceutical manufacturer had a higher concentration level of PPCPs, 10 to 1000 time more than 24 waste water plant nationwide combine.

The danger of PPCPs to human is still unknown since the chemical is so diluted in the water source and the part per trillion(ppt) is too low to have real effect. However ecological damage is being seen on aquatic organism.  The organism exposure to high concentration of PPCPs might be a telling sign of overexposure to these bioactive chemical side effects. A study of fish living in high level of estrogen and chemical that act like it has shown a feminizing effect on the male fish. The ratio of male to female became 1 to 10 and in other study, the population just died off. The fish population of male started becoming intersex or both sex in water filled with these PPCPs. The source of the estrogen comes from birth control pills, postmenopausal hormone and human by product. Other studies have found psychoactive pharmaceuticals drugs gives fish autism-like gene expression. One alarming thing about PPCPs that scientist warns about is the mixture of chemical in the water. Scientist have recently found that household detergents, and shampoo PPCPs have suspected cancer causing contaminant called NDMA. When household cleaning PPCPs mixed with chloramine (a waste water disinfectant) it forms NDMA.

The solution to dealing with PPCPs can be complicated and uncertain since millions of products contribute to problem. However steps can be taken to lessen the amount of PPCPs that enters the water supplies. The first step towards addressing the issues is educating the public about the possible danger of PPCPs and correct disposal of drugs. The implementation of buyback drug program or take back program can help to alleviate the disposal of drugs down the drain. The second issue is regulation of PPCPs, the current federal regulation law Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which list waste as hazardous if it exhibit one of these characteristic: ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity and toxicity does not apply to any household waste. The Safe Drinking Water Act allows the treatment of public wells for contaminants; however pharmaceuticals PPCPs are considered unregulated contaminants and are not treated for. Lastly waste water treatment plant aren’t equipped to deal with PPCPs chemicals, and needs to updated to tackle this problems.

The problem of PPCPs isn’t going away and will continue to become more of a global issue, as climate change increases more droughts like weather and competition for scarce water resources will force the use of recycle waste water as an alternative.  The control of PPCPs from entering the ecosystem is vital to protecting the environment and our water resources.










United States Geological Survey. “Large number of public wells in U.S. have potentially harmful contamiants in source water, study finds.” Sciencedaily, 21 May 2010 Web. 20 Jun 2012

United States Geological Survey. “Manufacturing facilities release pharmaceuticals to the environment, USGS study finds.” Sciencedaily, 7 June 2010 Web. 20 Jun 2012

Kemper et al. “Quaternary Amines As Nitrosamine Precursors: A Role for consumer Products?” Environmental Science & Technology,  7 Apr.,2010; Pg.44

Michael A. Thomas, Rebecca D. Klaper. “Psychoactive Pharmaceuticals Induce fish Gene Expression Profiles Associated with Human Idiopathic Autism.” Public Library Of Science One. June 6, 2012

Scientific America. “ External Medicine: Discarded Drugs May Contaminate 40 Million Americans ‘ Drinking Water” 116 Sept.2011 Web edition.

Mozaz  Sara, Howard S.  Weinberg. “Meeting Report: Pharmaceuticals in Water – An Interdisciplinary Approach to a Public Health Challenge” Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol. 118 Number 7. Pg. 1016-1020


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