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Basic Information

This drawing shows the pathway between homes and septic or municipal sewage facilities.

Discarding unused drugs and personal care products down the toilet is a common but poor disposal method.

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products were first called "PPCPs" only a few years ago, but these bioactive chemicals (substances that have an effect on living tissue) have been around for decades. Their effect on the environment is now recognized as an important area of research.

PPCPs include:

Sources of PPCPs:

The importance of individuals directly contributing to the combined load of chemicals in the environment has been largely unrecognized. PPCPs in the environment illustrate the immediate connection of the actions/activities of individuals with their environment.

Individuals add PPCPs to the environment through excretion (the elimination of waste material from the body) and bathing, and disposal of unwanted medications to sewers and trash. In February 2007, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy issued the first consumer guidance for the Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs (pdf, 1pp, 95 KB) Exit EPA Disclaimer. Proper disposal of drugs is a straightforward way for individuals to prevent pollution.

Some PPCPs are easily broken down and processed by the human body or degrade quickly in the environment, but others are not easily broken down and processed, so they enter domestic sewers. Excretion of biologically unused and unprocessed drugs depends on:

This drawing shows some of the contributions of sewage, biosolids and farms to PPCPs in the environment.

Because they dissolve easily and don't evaporate at normal temperatures or pressure, PPCPs make their way into the soil and into aquatic environments via sewage, treated sewage sludge (biosolids), and irrigation with reclaimed water.

Please read the PPCP Frequent Questions for more details and background information.

Two posters illustrate the origins/sources and fate of PPCPs in the environment:

Origins and Fate of PPCPs in the Environment (PDF) (poster, 261KB, About PDF) illustration by C.G. Daughton, U.S. EPA, NERL, Las Vegas, NV, February 2001 (revised March 2006) [note: This illustration has been published in a several articles, one of which can be cited as: Daughton, C. G. (2007). Pharmaceuticals in the environment: sources and their management. In Analysis, Fate and Removal of Pharmaceuticals in the Water Cycle. M. Petrovic and D. Barcelo, Elsevier Science. Volume 50: 1-58.]

The Environmental Life Cycle of Pharmaceuticals (PDF) (poster, 2.6MB, About PDF) illustration by C.G. Daughton, US EPA, NERL, Las Vegas, NV, 2 December 2006 [note: This illustration has been published in Daughton CG "Pharmaceuticals as Environmental Pollutants: the Ramifications for Human Exposure," In: International Encyclopedia of Public Health, Kris Heggenhougen and Stella Quah (Eds.), Vol. 5, San Diego: Academic Press; 2008, pp. 66-102.]

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