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Wastewater & Onsite Systems | Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs)


PPCP Overview

What are Emerging Contaminants and PPCPs?

NEIWPCC member states have identified emerging contaminants, specifically pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs), as a cross-programmatic priority issue. The New England states and New York are particularly interested in the occurrence, fate, and transport of these chemicals, in addition to their ecological and human health effects and implications for wastewater and drinking water treatment facilities. PPCPs represent a vast group of compounds manufactured in large quantities that are frequently used by humans (and domesticated animals) worldwide and are not commonly monitored for or regulated. Pharmaceutical and personal care products enter the environment through a variety of pathways, including human excretion, the disposal of unwanted or expired medication or cosmetics, agricultural runoff, landfill leachate, and direct release to open waters via washing, bathing, and swimming.

These compounds—especially endocrine disruptors—are a growing concern for New England and New York’s clean water and drinking water programs. Recent media attention and advances in detection techniques have created a greater awareness of PPCPs and the need for action and leadership at the local, state, and regional levels. Ongoing research is focused on the environmental impacts of these compounds, including research on the prioritization of compounds of greatest concern, the development of better detection and analytical methodologies, source characterization, and human health and ecological impacts.

NEIWPCC understands that tracking and monitoring these issues is of high priority and will continue to keep our members apprised of all activities in this area as well as coordinate regional PPCP-related initiatives. For more information, please contact Jaclyn Harrison, coordinator of NEIWPCC’s PPCP Workgroup at

Background Information

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are a subgroup of “contaminants of emerging concern,” also referred to as “emerging contaminants” or “trace organic compounds.” Contaminants of emerging concern as a whole are compounds that are not commonly monitored due to their “emerging” nature. Compounds referred to as “pharmaceuticals and personal care products” have been around for decades, however their presence in the environment and implications thereof is only now a focus of our attention and research. Coined “PPCPs” in the 1999 EPA review “Special Report: Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Environment: Agents of Subtle Change?”, these compounds are comprised of a diverse group of chemicals including, but not limited to,

Sources of Contaminants

How do these compounds enter our environment? These compounds are introduced into the terrestrial and aquatic environments through a variety of sources, including, but not limited to, wastewater effluent (sewage treatment plants and septic systems), treated sewage sludge, landfill leachate, industrial effluent, combined sewer overflows, aquaculture, and animal feed lots. A large portion of pharmaceuticals enter the environment though wastewater effluent via human excretion; this has resulted from the disposal of unused or expired medication by flushing them down the toilet. Agricultural practices such as the application of biosolids or manure as fertilizer can also contribute to environmental concentrations of PPCPs. It is important to note that contributions to the environment from some of these sources remain poorly characterized in both quantity and quality and there are other sources that have yet to be identified.

The paths these compounds travel that ultimately deliver them to the waters of our environment can be generalized into three segments: the disposal and/or release of these compounds via wastewater influent, discharge into the environment through wastewater effluent, and the direct release of compounds to the environment.

Disposal/Release into Wastewater Influent

Wastewater Effluent

Direct Release to Environment


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