For Immediate Release
August 4, 2010

KDHE Office of Communications
communications@kdheks.gov, 785-296-0461

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Our Environment

An Op-Ed Column by John Mitchell
Director, Division of Environment

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) are products that have been developed for personal health care, veterinary care or for cosmetic purposes.  PPCPs consist of a diverse collection of thousands of chemical substances which include prescription and over-the counter medications, veterinary drugs, cosmetics, vitamins, fragrances, lotions, and sun-screen products, to name just a few.  Many of these substances are common products we use and consume every day.

Recent studies conducted in the United States and Europe have determined that PPCPs are present in low concentrations in both surface and ground water.   PPCPs can enter the environment when people or animals that are treated with or use these health care products.  Residual chemical compounds are excreted and these chemicals then enter the sewer system or migrate into water ways when precipitation occurs.  Up to 90 percent of medications are not absorbed or metabolized by humans or animals and the unabsorbed medicine passes naturally through their system.  Many of these chemicals easily dissolve in water. 

Currently, there is no significant evidence that residual PPCPs in our waterways result in adverse health effects to people.  However, there is increasing concern that certain compounds may be causing ecological harm to fish and other aquatic organisms.  While little can be done with respect to excretion of residual chemicals, there are a few simple changes that if followed, will go a long way toward reducing the presence of PPCPs in the environment.

One safe and easy disposal alternative may be available through your local pharmacy.  Check with your pharmacist to determine if they are participating in a community drug “take back” program that allows for the return and proper disposal of unused medications. 

Another disposal option may be available through your county’s Household Hazardous Waste facility.  Contact your facility and ask if they accept medications and other PPCP’s for disposal.  A “KANSAS HOUSEHOLD HAZARDOUS WASTE PROGRAM CONTACTS LIST”can be found at www.kdheks.gov/waste/hhw/HHWpointofcontact.pdf.

If neither of these options is available, please do not flush prescription drugs or other medications down the drain, unless a specific instruction on the label directs you to do so.  Alternatively, remove prescription drugs from their original container, crush and dissolve solids in water, and then mix the liquid with an absorbent material such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.  Liquid drugs can be mixed directly with absorbent materials.  Place the mixture in a can, sealable container or plastic bag to prevent leakage and then place in your trash for disposal. 

For more information on PPCPs and their proper disposal visit EPA’s website at:   www.epa.gov/ppcp/basic2.html or KDHE website at www.kdheks.gov/waste/techguide/sw07-01.pdf

If everyone would follow the suggestions given we would see a significant reduction of PPCPs in the environment.  This will, in turn, help aquatic organisms survive in our streams and ultimately benefit us all. 

John Mitchell is the Director of Environment at Kansas Department of Health and Environment. He can be reached at jmitchell@kdheks.gov.