Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs)


Susmina Gajurel

M.Sc. Environment and Natural Resources, Kathmandu University

Pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) are products intended to groom our body to promote attractiveness or to prevent disease. Products intended to beautify are categorized as cosmetics while those used to treat or prevent disease are drugs. However, compounds predominantly associated with disinfectants, detergents have been excluded from the list. Several compounds have been synthesized in the form of beauty care products like UV filters, Triclosan, medicines (antibiotics), steroids, hormones among others used in everyday urban activities in the form of pharmaceutical and personal care products are now considered as an emerging pollutant. Although, they typically occur at very low concentrations (ng/l to µg/l), these chemicals may pose a risk because they are developed to trigger specific biological effects even at low doses in humans.

PPCPs are continuously released into the environment as we are using them in one or another form in our day to day life causing potential bioaccumulation and persistence. Consequently, aquatic organisms will be exposed to many of these substances throughout their lifetime. Hence, PPCPs are also considered pseudo-persistent as the input of these compounds tends to be constant affecting non-target organisms in the aquatic and terrestrial environment.

Pharmaceuticals released into the environment as mixtures can potentially act as synergy or antagonism, at large. Another major concern is that these compounds has potential to cause androgenic and estrogenic activity inhibiting, inhibit growth and spread drug resistance for example: antibiotics. Despite these ecological burden several such compounds do not have any guidelines established either. The ultimate source of PPCP in surface water is through waste water treatment plant or domestic septic tank which are not often designed to remove them from the effluent which could be in the form of parent compounds, metabolites, conjugated compounds and through bathing, washing or direct disposal. Because of the chemical properties (polarity, water solubility and persistence) of the individual PPCPs as compounds and their metabolites are not eliminated from the waste water treatment plant (WWTP) and hence, may enter surface waters through domestic, industrial and hospital effluents.

Demographic and socio-economic factors contribute to seasonal variability in the types and amounts of PPCPs in the receiving water. The concentrations of cold- or flu-associated medications increase in surface waters during winter months. Similarly, sunscreen agents are found in summer months in recreational areas like pools and beaches.  Hence, the pathways for PPCP input to aquatic ecosystems vary spatially and temporally complicating studies of PPCP fate and transport.


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