Do individual human activities help contaminate with pharmaceuticals and personal care products?

Believe it or not, but pharmaceuticals, as helpful as they are to human health...are quickly invading the environment around us with harmful effects. Personal care products such as hair dyes and more are also having a negative impact as they leave houses and business's and enter the environment.

From 1999 to 2002, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) studied surface and groundwater samples from around the country to determine whether PPCPs were present. They found at least one compound in 80% of streams and 93% of groundwater. The most commonly found compounds were: steroids, OTC medications (like ibuprofen), and insect repellants. Different PPCPs have different toxilogical effects.

Regulatory agencies at all levels of government are realizing that pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) and endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in surface and drinking water are of concern. PPCPs and EDCs are being found in rivers, lakes, and groundwater, all which serve as sources of drinking water, and even in treated drinking water. PPCPs include over-the-counter (OTC) medications, prescription medications, dietary supplements, hormones, cleaning agents (especially antibacterial cleaners), and the inert ingredients that are associated with these products (which can be just as harmful, if not more so, than the active ingredients themselves). Many of the PPCPs are actually designed to impact the human hormone system.

Some PPCPs are also Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals (EDCs). The endocrine system is a complex network of hormones and glands which release hormones into the body and regulate growth, development and maturation. Endocrine disrupters are synthetic chemicals which either block or mimic natural hormones, which in turn disrupt normal functioning of organs. Many of the components of OTC drugs, supplements, and prescription medications are not completely metabolized by the human body. Therefore, the unmetabolized portions of these compounds are excreted when people defecate or urinate. For example, when amoxicillin, a common antibiotic, is ingested, 60% of the drug comes out unchanged in the urine.

The PPCPs triclosan and tricloscarban1 have been found to disrupt development in frogs, causes endocrine disruption in mussels, disrupts thyroid hormones in rats after only short-term exposure (Crofton, et al., Short term in Vivo exposure to the water contaminant triclosan: Evidence for disruption of thyroxine. Triclosan and triclocarban are toxic to aquatic biota, bioaccumulate in algae and earthworms, are endocrine disrupters, can contain dioxin and other carcinogens, degrade to form other carcinogens, and are persistent in the environment.

But the damage from pharmaceuticals and PPCP contamination doesn't just affect the environment. Take this one research stat for an eye-opening example; potential human health impacts include: cancer, Type II diabetes, behavioral changes such as increased aggressiveness and decreased attention span, compromised immunity, and neurological effects (Spano, T., "Contaminants of Emerging Concern: Endocrine Disrupters," Presentation to COG Chief Administrative Officers Committee, August 1, 2007). Clearly mankind needs to become more attentive not only to reasons we ingest pharmaceuticals and use PPCP's, but also to the reverse effects these chemicals are having as we discard them into our environment.

Read Next: Truth About the Environment & Drinking Water

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