Pharmaceuticals and personal care products in water: a challenge

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We don’t think we’re teaching you anything if we tell you that we’re talking more and more about products found in minute quantities in our water sources! Human beings consume more and more, and we often dispose of the products we consume ourselves.

Among the products that find their way to our taps are chemicals we might never suspect. These products include cosmetics, toiletries, additives, prescription and over-the-counter medicines and veterinary products.

All these products are grouped together under the heading “Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products”, or “PPCPs”.

Depending on each household’s practices with these products, as well as their disposal (rinsing before disposing of bottles, for example), we’ll soon have to think about upgrading drinking water and wastewater treatment systems to eliminate the components.

In Quebec, the Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques conducted a study of 33 PPCPs and 6 hormones from 2003 to 2009:

“Seventeen substances, including two hormones, were detected in drinking water supplies on at least one occasion; only three of these were detected in more than 50% of samples. The vast majority of compounds detected were measured in raw water at concentrations of a few tens of nanograms per liter.


PPCPs, representing various families (anti-inflammatories, antiseptics and stimulants), were detected on at least one occasion at the majority of stations studied. Two of these had concentrations of the order of a few micrograms per liter. These substances were also detected in over 50% of wastewater samples.

We can therefore deduce that PPCPs are present in our environment at very low concentrations. Good news!

However, it is essential to monitor their presence and concentration in watercourses. The scientific community and governments are concerned about the potential impact of PPCPs on health and the environment, and are constantly questioning the disposal and management of PPCPs in water treatment.

Perhaps you’re wondering how these products end up in our water or the environment?

– Home use :

Some of the shampoos, soaps and creams we use every day end up in wastewater via the shower or sink. What’s more, expired or unused medicines are unfortunately flushed down the toilet or sink.

– Human excretion :

Medicines taken at home or in hospital can be excreted by the body and end up in wastewater.

– Excretion by animals :

Some medicines given to farm animals can end up in slurry or manure spread on farmland.

– Sewage sludge :

Sewage sludge from wastewater treatment plants can also be a source of PPCPs when applied to land.

Sources ;

Source Magazine Winter 2017

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