Water Quality Division: Wastewater Management: Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products

Many prescription and nonprescription drugs and chemicals in personal care products (PPCPs, or pharmaceuticals and personal care products) are found at trace levels in treated wastewater discharged from sewage treatment plants. These PPCPs are found in human wastes or may be directly released to the sewer for disposal.

Photo of waste treatment plantEven in modern, high-performance treatments plants, some PPCPs are not completely broken down by the treatment processes and persist in the wastewater discharge. Often, the released wastewater creates an aquatic environment that supports wetlands and streamside vegetation or may recharge the groundwater.

Although many of these chemicals are present at levels far too low to have any effect on humans or wetland animals, scientists have detected some of the chemicals at levels linked to adverse impacts on the reproductive systems of certain species of fish and frogs that depend on waters influenced by treated wastewater.

Although scientists have detected very low levels of some PPCPs in some drinking water systems, they have not documented adverse human impacts from these low levels to date. However, they are actively researching these issues.

An important step is to prevent these chemicals from entering into the sewer in the first place. A key to this approach is proper disposal of unused pharmaceuticals. It is also important to determine whether and how processes in the sewage treatment plant can be changed to most effectively remove these chemicals.

ADEQ is supporting research at Arizona's universities in this area.

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