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In the Bathroom - Turn off the water tap while brushing your teeth.  Fill a cup with water for rinsing after brushing.  
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Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Drinking Water


Recent studies have indicated that emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products, are being detected in trace levels in drinking water.

What are pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs)?

PPCPs are any products that are used for health or cosmetic reasons, including:

  • Prescription drugs;

  • Over-the-counter drugs;

  • Vitamins;

  • Cosmetics;

  • Lotions and sunscreens;

  • Fragrances;

  • Insect repellent;

  • Common chemicals, like household cleaners.

How do PPCPs enter the environment and drinking water?

  • Through the use of personal care products (cosmetics, lotions and fragrances);

  • Activities such as bathing, shaving and swimming;

  • Unused or expired medication being flushed down the toilet or placed in the garbage;

  • Medication residues passing through the body (metabolic excretion);

  • Veterinary medicine;

  • Residues from manufacturing;

  • Hospital residue.

Why are PPCPs suddenly showing up in drinking water?

PPCPs have probably been present in drinking water sources for a long time.  Advances in analytical chemistry and technology have enabled laboratories to detect more substances, and at lower levels (trace amounts).  Sophisticated laboratory equipment can now measure chemicals in nanograms per liter (parts per trillion).  To put this into perspective, this concentration is the equivalent of about 1 tsp in 1000 Olympic-size swimming pools.

How are PPCPs in drinking water regulated?

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are not regulated in Ontario drinking water.  There is currently not enough scientific data on the potential health effects of PPCPs at minute levels.  Monitoring and research on health effects and the pathways in which PPCPs enter the environment is currently ongoing.

Why should I be concerned about PPCPs in drinking water?

  • There are increasing numbers of PPCPs being detected in source water and drinking water;

  • There can be adverse effects on aquatic life;

  • Water and wastewater treatment systems are not typically designed for the removal of PPCPs, and it is extremely expensive to upgrade to more sophisticated treatment equipment.

What can I do to help?

  • Take prescription medication as directed by your doctor or pharmacist;

  • Properly dispose of any unused or unwanted medication;

  • DO NOT flush unwanted medication down the toilet;

  • Many pharmacies offer take-back programs for unused or unwanted medication;

  • Ontario residents have a free, safe and easy way to dispose of pharmaceuticals and household hazardous waste.  Find your local drop-off location at www.makethedrop.ca

What are the Lake Huron & Elgin Area Water Supply Systems doing to help?

In order to understand long-term implications to the water supply system, and the effectiveness of the existing processes at the water treatment plants, the Lake Huron & Elgin Area Water Systems participate in various studies and investigations.  These initiatives include research studies being led by:

  • The National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) through the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Drinking Water Research at the University of Toronto, and the NSERC Industrial Research Chair in Water Treatment at the University of Waterloo.

  • Ontario Ministry of the Environment;

  • University of Western Ontario;

  • Various engineering consulting firms.

In addition, the Water Board's have an annual membership in the Water Research Foundation which funds and undertakes international research on water supply issues.  Continued studies will be useful in the long-term plans for the water supply systems.  A thorough understanding of source water quality will help manage and prioritize improvements for water treatment plant processes, and identify additional technologies required at the water treatment plants to reduce risk.

Where can I find more information?

For more information, please visit the websites of the following professional organizations:

Stewardship Ontario

Ontario residents have a free, safe and easy way to dispose of pharmaceuticals and household hazardous waste.  Find your local drop-off location at:



World Health Organization

Pharmaceuticals in drinking-water

Environment Canada

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in the Canadian Environment:  Research and Policy Directions

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs)

Ontario Ministry of the Environment

Drinking Water Surveillance Program

University of Waterloo

NSERC Chair in Water Treatment

University of Toronto

Drinking Water Research Group



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