Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) include drugs and personal care cosmetic products as well as household cleaners.These are many and diverse. They include both synthetic and natural products, prescription and over-the-counter concoctions, plus medicines and grooming products for animals. Also included are natural and synthetic hormones and antibiotics, including natural hormones excreted by animals and humans.Some very common examples include aspirin, ibuprofen and caffeine. Some exist in very small amounts. To keep things in perspective, a cup of coffee contains about one million times the amount of caffeine that has been detected in some water samples. Other common examples of drugs and PPCPs found in water are detergents, household cleaning agents, insect killers and repellants, etc.

PPCPs include products that are ingested or used for personal health and well-being and for cosmetic purposes. They include prescribed and over-the-counter drugs, veterinary drugs, fragrances, lotions, cosmetics, detergents, plasticizers, pesticides, flame retardants, and illegal drugs.  

In a word, there are so many items in this category that generalizations about their effects or how to remove them from water are at best simply generalizations.

Although it seems from media reports that the presence of drugs and PPCPs in water is on the rise, it is likely that increased reporting due to improved detection methods is in part responsible. In any case, presence of drugs and cosmetic items are being reported frequently now in ppt (parts per trillion) amounts as well as microgram and nanograms.

Because of the tiny amounts being detected, there is no reason to assume that human health is being affected. However, there is now strong evidence that behavior changes in fish can be caused by drugs in the water even in tiny amounts. Also, “feminization” of male fish near sewage release points has been reported, and the supposition is that drugs and hormones are the cause.

Water Treatment: There is obviously no way to determine the preferred treatment method for every possible drug, cosmetic, or household chemical, but it is safe to assume that standard water treatment techniques can be effectively used in most instances. Some contaminants can be oxidized by chlorine, ozone, or hydrogen peroxide, and granular carbon, the standby tool for most chemicals, can be used to adsorb a large percentage of the contaminants in this category. Reverse osmosis membranes will screen out chemicals with larger molecular weights (over about 100 daltons). More advanced oxidation processes, though expensive, are also available for items not removed by conventional treatments.

From a residential water user’s standpoint, an undersink reverse osmosis unit (which contains pre- and post- carbon block filtration) is the obvious best choice for pharmaceutical-free and PPCP-free drinking water. A good multi-stage carbon filter would also be an excellent second choice.

Source Reference: Water Technology.