Pharmaceuticals and personal care products, often referred to as PPCPs, include common household items such as medicines (prescription and over-the-counter), lotions, fragrances, and cosmetics, as well hormones used in agribusiness to enhance the growth and health of livestock. These products, when used in large quantities or improperly disposed of (such as being washed down the drain or flushed down the toilet), eventually make their way into our water supply in trace amounts.
While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has long known about trace amounts of PPCPs in surface water, waste water, and drinking water, PPCPs have generally been considered harmless due to the fact that they occur in parts per billion (ppb) and parts per trillion (ppt).
Recent research, however, has caused the EPA, research centers, and consumer watchdog groups to take a closer look at effects of PPCPs in groundwater and drinking water, even in trace amounts. Although PPCPs are currently unregulated in the United States, the EPA maintains the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL3) and Third Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 3) to help monitor levels of PPCPs in public drinking water.
What started with a 2008 study conducted by the University of Calgary on the disappearance of male longnose dave from the Oldman and Bow Rivers in Alberta, Canada, quickly turned to the human birth ratios. According to the book Down the Drain: How We Are Failing To Protect Our Water (2013), male births in Eastern Canada have dropped 5.6 per 1,000 live births since 1970. Similar live birth ratios have been noted in the US and Japan as well.
In addition, a documentary from the Canadian Broadcasting Company noted that not only has the birthrate for males has declined steadily for 30 years in over 20 industrialized countries, but boys being born with penis abnormalities has risen 200%. Also, research has found a decline in sperm count as well as an 85% increase in DNA-damaged sperm in otherwise healthy males.
These trends may be traced back to endocrine disrupting compounds (EDCs) that have made their way into the drinking water. EDCs such as birth control pills, pesticides, and phthalates that mimic the female hormone estrogen are taking a toll, even in low but steady doses. In addition, livestock
Until the EPA heeds the warnings of scientists and begins regulating PPCPs, there is one sure-fire technology to remove PPCPs from a household’s personal water supply. By installing a reverse-osmosis system in the home, the system removes virtually all PPCPs and other contaminants, even those found in trace amounts. A University of New Mexico study found that activated carbon and advanced oxidation processes are highly effective at breaking down PPCPs, while chlorine (the most common chemical for treating water) is dramatically less effective.
At this point, eliminating PPCPs from personal water supplies via reverse osmosis, as well as encouraging local and national representatives to take action to increase both safety and education, are the best next steps. We fully expect the scientific community along with consumers to eventually put enough pressure on the EPA and elected officials to regulate PPCPs, but in the meantime you can ensure the cleanest possible water for your family with a reverse-osmosis system.