Potential Threats to Our Groundwater
Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products in Drinking Water Supplies
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) are a diverse group of chemicals including all human and veterinary drugs; dietary supplements; other consumer products including fragrances, topical agents such as cosmetics and sunscreens, laundry and cleaning products; and all the “inert” ingredients that are part of these products.
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are introduced to the environment as pollutants in a variety of ways, including: excretion by humans and domestic animals; intentional disposal of unneeded PPCPs (flushing); bathing or swimming; discharge from municipal sewage systems or private septic systems; leaching from landfills; runoff from confined animal feeding operations; discharge of raw sewage from storm overflow events, cruise ships, and some rural homes directly into surface water; accidental discharges to a groundwater recharge area; loss from aquaculture; and spray-drift from antibiotics used on food crops.
A study by the U.S. Geological Survey published in 2002 brought attention to PPCPs in water. In a sampling of 139 susceptible streams in 30 states, detectable yet minute quantities of PPCPs were found in 80 percent of the streams. The most common pharmaceuticals detected were steroids and nonprescription drugs. Antibiotics, prescription medication, detergents, fire retardants, pesticides and natural and synthetic hormones were also found.
The potential human health risks associated with minute levels of PPCPs in water in general and drinking water in particular is still being determined. Until more is known, there is much the public health and environmental protection community can do to educate the public about the risks and best practices concerning the use and disposal of PPCPs, thus protecting drinking water sources.