Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Drinking Water

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) refer to any product used by individuals for personal health or cosmetic reasons or used by agribusiness to enhance growth or health of livestock.

PPCPs include:

  • Prescription and over the counter drugs
  • Veterinary drugs
  • Fragrances
  • Cosmetics
  • Sun-screen products
  • Diagnostic agents
  • Vitamins and supplements

Studies have shown that pharmaceuticals are present in our nation’s groundwater and surface water. PPCPs have collected in the water through a few different pathways. Drugs are not entirely broken down and absorbed by our bodies and are excreted and passed into wastewater and subsequently surface water. PPCPs also end up in water from different disposal methods such as being flushed down the toliet or being drained in the sink.

While studies to date have not found evidence of adverse human health effects, current research shows that PPCPs in the water can have negative impacts on ecological health. As this research continues, there are some steps we can take now to properly dispose of these leftover and unwanted chemicals to prevent ecological impact. Proper disposal will reduce our exposure to these chemicals and can help reduce the amount found in our waters, including those waters used as drinking water resources.

How to dispose of unused perscription and over the counter drugs:

Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so. For information on drugs that should be flushed visit the FDA’s website.

To dispose of prescription drugs, take advantage of permanent drop-off sites located in many Rhode Island communities.  Call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service and ask if a drug take-back program is available in your community.

Other approved disposal options: 


You can purchase pre-paid envelopes for mail-in return at the pharmacy.  Ask your pharmacist.

At Home

The RI Department of Health and the RI Department of Environmental Management have also approved a method for disposing medications safely at home.  Follow these steps:

  1. Take the medicine (prescription or over-the-counter) out of its original containers.
  2. Crush tablets or pills. Liquids, gels, ointments, or creams can be mixed with cat litter or used coffee grounds.
  3. Put the medicine into a disposable container with a lid or into a sealable plastic bag.
  4. Remove any personal information (including Rx number) on the empty containers by covering it with black permanent marker, or by peeling it off.
  5. Place the sealed container or bag in the trash.
  6. Place the empty drug containers in the recycling.

For more information on this topic:

EPA. 2010. Pharmaceuticals and personal care products. Retrieved from
FDA. 2011. How to dispose of unused medicines. Retrieved from


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