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Portland Water Bureau

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1120 SW Fifth Ave, Suite 600, Portland, OR 97204

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Pharmaceutical & Personal Care Products

What are Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs)?

What are pharmaceutical and personal care products?PPCPs are any product used by individuals for:

  • Personal health
  • Cosmetic reasons
  • Used by agribusiness to enhance growth or health of livestock
  • Comprise a diverse collection of thousands of chemical substances, including prescription and over-the-counter therapeutic drugs, veterinary drugs, fragrances, and cosmetics

PPCPs have probably been present in water and the environment for as long as humans have been using them. The drugs that we take are not entirely absorbed by our bodies, and are excreted and passed into wastewater and surface water.

With advances in technology that improved the ability to detect and quantify these chemicals, we can now begin to identify what effects, if any, these chemicals have on human and environmental health. 

Monitoring Results
The Portland Water Bureau has tested for PPCPs in both the Bull Run and Columbia South Shore Well Field drinking water supplies. Click here to access past monitoring results for PPCPs.

FAQs about PPCPs
Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are bioactive chemicals (substances that have an effect on living tissue) that have been around for decades.

PPCPs include:

  • Prescription and over-the counter therapeutic drugs
  • Veterinary drugs
  • Fragrances
  • Cosmetics
  • Sun-screen products
  • Diagnostic agents
  • Nutraceuticals (e.g., vitamins)

Sources of PPCPs:

  • Human activity
  • Residues from pharmaceutical manufacturing (well defined and controlled)
  • Residues from hospitals
  • Illicit drugs
  • Veterinary drug use, especially antibiotics and steroids
  • Agribusiness

Is testing for PPCPs required by the EPA?
No. Testing is completely discretionary.

Where do PPCPs come from?
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.

Should Portland Water Bureau customers be worried about ecological and/or human health?
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.

In fact, just because 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.

While these trace substances may be detected at very low levels in source waters, people regularly consume or expose themselves to products containing these substances in much higher concentrations through medicines, food and beverage and other sources. The level in which they are found in source waters is very small in comparison.

In what quantities are PPCPs used or introduced to the environment?
As a whole, PPCPs are produced and used in large quantities. Personal care products tend to be made in extremely large quantities - thousands of tons per year. But quantities of production or consumption do not correspond with the quantities of PPCPs introduced to the environment. PPCPs manufactured in large quantities may not be found in the environment if they are easily broken down and processed by the human body or degrade quickly. PPCPs made in small quantities could be over represented in the environment, if they are not easily broken down and processed by the human body and make their way into domestic sewers.

Links to Additional Resources