Persistent and Pseudo-Persistent Pollutants in the Waterways

big pharma pharmaceutical hazards pharmaceutical pollution problems with pharmaceuticals tainted waters water pollution Apr 23, 2022

Persistent and Pseudo-Persistent Pollutants in the Waterways




Laura Miranda Norris, PhD


April 18, 2022



People do not normally think of the bleak effects of the lotion they apply to their skin or the downstream health effects of the daily medication they ingest. Rarely will they imagine its effect on people and places they have never seen. But this is exactly what happens when they consume medication or apply sunscreen. Everything we ingest or rub on our skin eventually goes down the drain into our wastewater treatment system and then to the local stream, lake or ocean. The actions of one individual may seem minor to a person, but it adds up to become a vast problem downstream when the other 7.9 billion people on earth contribute their share.

Humans are led to believe that the wastewater treatment centers are designed to remove all contaminants that enter the facility and discharge clean water into the environment. In reality, wastewater treatment centers are designed to remove only some of the medications and chemicals that are entering the system. These substances enter the environment in many different ways, including wastewater and runoff from agricultural or human wastewater systems. City sewage treatment plants focus on killing pathogens that cause visible illnesses, but antibiotics and other drugs found, for example, in a patient's urine escape the sanitary treatment system and end up in the water cycle which includes surface, wastewater, groundwater, and drinking water. Surface and groundwater are the primary resources for sustainable drinking water production worldwide. If that water is contaminated with a pathogen, the health department will be notified, but if the water is tainted with a chemical that might or might not be forthwith harmful to a human, then it will slip by unnoticed. However, large amounts of this water are also contaminated by refractory organic substances derived from industrial, domestic, and farming activities (Radjenović et al. 2008; Vergili 2013). These contaminants are non-point source pollutants since their origin is unknown. Most contaminants that enter streams and rivers are considered non-point sources. 


Removing medications during wastewater and drinking-water treatment is essential for people's health and aquatic animals. Pharmaceutical removal is dependent on the drug's physical and chemical properties. Wastewater and drinking-water cleaning-up treatment processes were not made specifically to remove pharmaceuticals, but they may remove some medications to varying degrees. Wastewater treatment plants have treatment options that remove pesticides that might also remove drugs. Studies on conventional drinking-water treatment processes have shown that Coagulation is mainly ineffective in removing pharmaceuticals. Free chlorine can remove up to 50% of the pharmaceutical medication while chloramines have a lower rate of removal.  Medications that were removed better by free chlorine include certain antibiotics, like erythromycin. Chloramines are made when water containing ammonia is chlorinated. Chloramine is a weaker disinfectant than chlorine when killing viruses and protozoa. Chlorine was the first water disinfectant used in the United States drinking water municipalities in 1908. It remains the primary disinfectant used throughout the U.S. because of its effectiveness and low cost, but chloramine is growing in popularity. Many water treatment centers are switching to chloramine despite concerned citizens. Boiling water kills the bacteria present in the water, but it does not make it pure. Boiling water does not remove heavy metals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, insecticides, and arsenic. If the water is boiled down to a small amount, it will concentrate drugs and other contaminants in the water. The chemicals left behind in the water can be pollutants, heavy metals, and other health-harming impurities. It is best to use an effective water filter or a reverse osmosis system to rid drinking water of these harmful impurities.


When pharmaceuticals leave the user's body, they usually do so in urine, ending up in wastewater plants. Wastewater treatment plants are not specifically designed to remove pharmaceutically active compounds because they are not considered toxic. The wastewater facilities are designed to handle biological compounds and organic matter. These chemicals do not break down because they are more stable and non-biodegradable. The technology wastewater treatment plants use to remove those pharmaceuticals in urine is complex because of the challenges of removing low levels of medicines. Treatment plants have an easier time removing concentrated toxins and chemicals compared to diluted ones. The urine that contains pharmaceuticals also contains other minerals, so the urine becomes weak. The drugs that are the most commonly found in our drinking water include antibiotics, mood stabilizers, synthetic hormones, blood thinners, and pain medication. 


Side-effects of medications and chemicals in the environment are a reality. The United States leads the way when it comes to overall prescription drugs usage. More than 130 million people in the United States use at least one prescription drug. Older people make up a large percentage of those utilizing prescriptions because most have a chronic illness. According to a Consumer Reports survey in 2017, the U.S. remains a highly medicated country, with 55 percent of Americans regularly taking prescription medicine. The number of prescriptions doctors prescribe, and patients have filled doubled in the past 25 years, from 2.4 billion in 1997 to 4.5 billion in 2016. Having access to medication has increased the life expectancy of many people in the United States and throughout the world. Still, too many physicians prescribe unnecessary drugs, and many of these prescriptions get thrown away. Most of these prescribed medications end up disposed of improperly such as being flushed down the toilet. The majority do not think about the ill effects these flushed medications are causing in the environment. 


     The drugs that are the most commonly found in our drinking water include antibiotics, mood stabilizers, synthetic hormones, blood thinners, and pain medication. Testosterone cream is one topical drug of concern to the Federal Government. Any hormone in the water is a threat. Back in 1975 scientists first noticed that chemicals that were not classified as hormones can unintentionally take on an estrogenic role. Life Science Products located in Hopewell, Virginia was the manufacturer of the insecticide called Kepone.  The male workers at the plant started complaining of health problems and lowered sperm counts. When men ingest natural estrogens they have a decrease in their sperm count. The health investigators thought that Kepone might be estrogenic as well as a toxin. In other countries outside of the United States, pharmaceuticals in drinking and wastewater are more of a problem because of their higher population and less access to pure drinking water. But the United States is still a highly medicated country with a complex wastewater system problem. What are the side effects of these pharmaceuticals on aquatic animals and us? 


Pharmaceuticals are referred to as "pseudo-persistent" contaminants due to their continuous release into the aquatic environment through different pathways (Desbiolles et al., 2018), including treated or untreated wastewater released from municipal, hospital, and industrial WWTPs(wastewater treatment plants), landfill leachate, illegal disposal, and surface runoff from urban or agricultural areas (Alkimin et al., 2019, Barbosa et al., 2016, Tran et al., 2018, Xie et al., 2019). Among these sources, WWTPs are of great interest since they continuously discharge pharmaceuticals into the aquatic compartments (Tran et al., 2018). The aquatic environment is key to sustainable development for a global society. The ecosystems are of great importance from an economic and environmental point of view (Ho L.T., Goethals P.L. ). The freshwater ecosystem holds 10% of the planet's biodiversity (one-third of vertebrates) and has come to a point where pollution, water scarcity, and human usage have affected profoundly in the decrease of underwater living organisms (Tickner D., Opperman J.J., Abell R., Acreman M., Arthington A.H., Bunn S.E., Cooke S.J., Dalton J., Darwall W., Edwards G., Harrison I.) The scientists at the Land, Atmosphere, and Marine or LAMA, have water pollution rated as 7.5 on a 10-point scale with 0 being optimal condition and 10 being catastrophic. This means they are seeing a significant deterioration of the ecosystem with numerous species lost. Many local citizen water testing programs train volunteers to monitor creeks and streams and share their findings on the organization's water quality. The organizations are funded through the EPA. The organization watches for nonpoint source pollution. Nonpoint source pollution flows into our streams and rivers from stormwater runoff from unknown sources. The organizations monitor biological, physical, and chemicals in the streams and rivers. They do not check for pharmaceuticals.


Pharmaceuticals are synthetic or natural chemicals found in prescription, over-the-counter, and veterinary drugs. For over twenty years, medications in our water cycle in trim levels have been a health concern: hospitals, nursing homes, and private dwellings flush drugs down the toilet. The EPA discourages hospitals and nursing homes from flushing unused medication down the toilet, but it still happens. The amount of antibiotics disposed of in-hospital wastewater depends on the size of a hospital, the number of patients, and the season. A small hospital won’t have as many disposed of medications as a larger hospital. For instance, a positive correlation was observed between the quantity of ciprofloxacin prescribed in hospitals and antibiotic residue levels in the hospital wastewater (Diwan V, Tamhankar AJ, Khandal RK, Sen S, Aggarwal M, Marothi Y). Nursing homes might be worse offenders than hospitals. Hospitals have on-site pharmacies with an understanding to return unused drugs to manufacturers for credit or proper disposal. Nursing homes do not have these same programs. They are known to flush medications after a patient dies or is moved somewhere else. The nursing residents could save thousands of dollars annually if they mailed back the medication. With thousands of facilities all over the United States, many unneeded drugs are going into the wastewater then to our drinking water.  Researchers studying pharmaceuticals in the waterways are available for 75 of 196 countries, with most research happening in North America and Western Europe. Prescription drugs are an extensive and costly business. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported prescription drug expenditure in the United States was 348.4 billion U.S. dollars in 2020. Almost 90 percent of people with arthritis and 98 percent of diabetes use prescription drugs. This is outrageous.


At least 30 percent of antibiotics prescribed in the United States are unnecessary, according to new data published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). According to the CDC, 44 percent of outpatient antibiotic prescriptions are given to patients with viral infections like sinus infections, middle ear infections, the common cold, and allergies. Antibiotics are considered to be "persistent or pseudo-persistent substances because their entry rate into the environment is higher than the elimination rate" and comprise heterogeneous compounds, with various functional groups, responsible for very different physicochemical properties and behaviors in the ecosystem (Coman C. Antibiotic resistance). In the twentieth century, antibiotics began being produced in high numbers. These antibiotics are mainly synthetically manufactured from naturally produced antibiotic compounds. It is not only humans that are excreting medication into the water but also livestock. The antibiotics used in agriculture are used to prevent and treat disease and to fatten up livestock. Antibiotic usage in agriculture varies across regions and countries. China is the biggest producer and consumer of both animal and human antibiotics. 


The overuse of antibiotics in humans and livestock is causing antibiotic-resistant bacteria and resistance genes. This is creating a whole worldwide antibiotic resistance illness. Even the soil and water environment are growing sources of antibiotic resistance illnesses. The negative consequence of antibiotic mass production is bacterial communities becoming resistant to the development of many of today’s pathogens. The unneeded antibiotics are doing more harm than good. First, killing off the patient's gut-healthy microbes, then getting flushed down the toilet, further causing antibiotic pollution of the natural microbial populations, invertebrates, and vertebrates. Certain antibiotics can stay in the gastro-intestinal tract longer than other antibiotics. The longer they stay the more damage they do to commensal microbiota. Tetracyclines are one type of antibiotic that stays longer in the gastrointestinal tract. Later, the unabsorbed fraction is excreted into the environment, where it could exert a biological activity (Coman C. Antibiotic resistance). Antibiotic treatments have saved millions of lives over the last century, when used properly, since their discovery. However, increased and unnecessary antibiotics prescriptions have led to exposure to unhealthy ecosystems. Wastewater treatment plants (WWTP), cannot remove all antibiotics flushed into the system. The sludge and final dump from the WWTP could contain antibiotics and other hazardous drugs. This sludge could be used as manure fertilizer, and the effluent is discharged into surface water (Wang M, Shen W, Yan L, Wang XH, Xu H). 


The concentrations of antibiotics which are found in agricultural soils could delay germination or reduce biomass, and consequently may negatively affect yield in farmland fertilized with contaminated manure (Minden V, Deloy A, Volkert AM, Leonhardt SD, Pufal G). The microbes found in farmland soil are needed for nitrogen fixation and antibiotics can disrupt this process. People consuming contaminated food and water contributed to increasing the resistant bacterial infection. Daily exposure to antibiotics can disrupt the human microbiome and digestive tract. Recent reports show that in the E.U. 33,000 people die every year due to infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, in 39% of the cases death is associated with infections with bacteria resistant to last-line antibiotics such as carbapenems and colistin (E.C. P.C.). A study from the Environmental Protection Agency found that an antibiotic going down the drain at a Pfizer factory in Kalamazoo, Michigan was still detectable after the water had been treated. The Pfizer spokesman said that they didn't test wastewater leaving the factories. The injectable antibiotic Lincomycin hydrochloride that is used to treat infections was found in a 2008 study to make human cancer in kidney cells and fish liver cells significantly increase when combined with other drugs. In their studies, they found lincomycin changes the genes of algae, bacteria, fish, and other aquatic animals. In another study, the U.S. Geological Survey found contamination levels downstream from two drug manufacturing plants in New York State up to 1,000 times higher than other comparable facilities around the United States. 


Caffeine is the most used non-prescription drug. Researchers are concerned about caffeine's adverse reactions to aquatic biota. Surface and ground waters that are contaminated by anthropogenic pollutants often contain trace amounts of caffeine. Newer wastewater treatment centers can remove between 50 percent and 90 percent of caffeine from wastewater, but older treatment centers can discharge caffeine and other drugs into streams. A recent Southern California study showed that failing sanitary sewer system infrastructure can leak into stormwater conveyance systems leading to the discharge of caffeine-contaminated water into the environment (Sercu, 2001). A global-scale study of active pharmaceutical ingredients or API pollution in 258 of the world's rivers. Samples were taken from 1,052 locations in 104 countries and examined for 61 APIs. The highest APIs were found in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and South America. These areas have poor wastewater and waste management infrastructure and pharmaceutical manufacturing. The most significant amounts of APIs were carbamazepine, metformin, and caffeine. The substances were detected at over half of the sites monitored. At least one API of the sampling sites was more remarkable than concentrations considered safe for aquatic organisms or which are of concern in terms of selection for antimicrobial resistance (E.M. Wellington et al.). 


Wildlife are especially susceptible to hormones found in the environment. Fish have more estrogen receptors than humans, making them more susceptible to estrogen in the water. There is evidence that male fish – feminization in streams, rivers, lakes, and downstream from wastewater treatment plants. Some of the highest populations of intersex fish, feminization in male fish, are found in urban lakes. The findings suggest that these fish are now or have been exposed to estrogenic compounds in their environment. Male salmon and rainbow trout have been thought to be negatively affected by birth control in the waterways. There are no EPA standards for how much hormones can be released in sewage. River otters and frogs in wetlands are also at risk of harm from synthetic hormones. Synthetic estrogen can disrupt marine life’s behavior and genetics. “We have seen a change in the genetic balance in fish, and that the fish have a harder time catching food. Previous studies have shown that the fish also develop problems with procreation. This can lead to the complete disappearance of an entire fish population and consequences for entire ecosystems," says Lina Nikoleris in a new doctoral thesis from Lund University.


 David Norris, Ph.D., an integrative physiology professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder, and his team studied fish that lived downstream of the wastewater treatment plant and found disturbing trends in the fish. In the 2006 study, Boulder Creek downstream of the wastewater treatment plant found a decrease in the native male fish compared to the females. Numerous intersex fish were also found downstream of the wastewater treatment plant. After a technology plant upgrades to activated sludge in 2008, the reproductive disruption in the fish was far less seen. "Although the levels of the chemicals that the fish swam in were very low even before the upgrade, the chemicals are endocrine disruptors. Endocrine disruptors mimic estrogen and may disrupt the endocrine (hormone) system of both animals and humans, said the study's principal investigator, David Norris. Norris went on to say, "The fish are a wake-up call." "Our bodies and those of the much more sensitive human fetus are being exposed every day to a variety of chemicals that are capable of altering not only our development and physiology but that of future generations as well." 


Of the animals found naturally in the environment, It is not just fish who feel the effects of our chemical-induced world. Frogs are being sterilized by chemicals in the water. Common store-bought pesticides and herbicides contain estrogen mimics, which act as endocrine-disrupting compounds that interfere with the hormone system of amphibians, causing male frogs to have female characteristics. Atrazine, one of the world's most widely used pesticides, wreaks havoc with the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into females, according to a new study by the University of California, Berkeley, biologists. The 75 percent chemically castrated are essentially "dead" because of their inability to reproduce in the wild, reports UC Berkeley's Tyrone B. Hayes, professor of integrative biology. Atrazine has been shown to ruin the reproductive system in animal models. Song et al. identified numerous toxic effects of atrazine on the reproductive system of male rats, including an irregular and disordered arrangement of seminiferous epithelium, decreased numbers of spermatozoa, increased numbers of abnormal spermatozoa, decreased levels of total antioxidant capacity, decreased serum levels of testosterone and inhibin-B, and increased serum levels of FSH and LHResearchers knew that the effect of estrogens on male frogs declines in agricultural regions and wastewater plants but did not expect to see it in the backyard environment.


Homeowners manicured and chemically sprayed yards might be causing a biodiversity desert. Researchers studied frogs in suburban ponds and found pesticides that contain estrogen mimics in places where there are lawns and gardens. The endocrine-disrupting compounds raise the number of female green frogs and lower the number of males. "In suburban ponds, the proportion of females born was almost twice that of frog populations in forested ponds," explained Max Lambert, a doctoral student at Yale University who led the study to be published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in a statement. "The fact that we saw such clear evidence was astonishing." 


Mood stabilizing medications are a group of drugs used to treat disturbances in mood, including mania, bipolar, and depression. These drugs control the extremes of the highs and lows experienced by the patient by restoring the chemical balance in the brain. Pharmacological mood stabilizers prescriptions for treating bipolar disorder have increased over the past 20 years. "Overall, 16.7 percent of 242 million U.S. adults reported filling one or more prescriptions for psychiatric drugs in 2013," according to the Journal of the American Medical Association's JAMA Internal Medicine. This is up from just one in ten back in 2011. That means one in six Americans takes some kind of psychiatric drug, with antidepressants leading the way. Most psychiatric drug use is for long-term use. Psychiatric medicines excreted by a person’s urine will end up in the wastewater and can change the behavior of fish in rivers and streams. It has been known that endocrine-disrupting compounds can mimic the effects of hormones in aquatic animals and cause harmful physiologic effects like reproductive problems or aggression. According to scientists, "An EDC is an anthropogenic chemical P (human-made compound or natural compounds at unnatural concentrations due to human activity) that may harm reproduction or development, mediated directly through the endocrine system of fish, wildlife, and humans." 


Researchers noticed that the wild European perch that were exposed to the anti-anxiety drug oxazepam were less fearful and more likely to experience aggressive behavior than the fish not exposed to oxazepam. "This is only one of hundreds of kinds of [pharmaceutical drugs] that are passed through wastewater plants, and we don't know what their environmental effects will be," said study co-author Micael Jonsson, an ecologist at Sweden's Umea University.  Perch are generally shy fish that hunt in schools. But researchers found perch that were exposed to Oxazepam were more risk-takers and loners. This was not normal behavior for this type of fish. This strange side effect can be departmentally to perch because they will more likely take risks, like hunting alone that can get them killed. Fighting other perch can also lower their population numbers ``We were actually a bit surprised because Oxazepam is supposed to have a soothing effect. Humans usually become calmer. But we saw the opposite in fish," Jonsson said. Perch feed on zooplankton, tiny microorganisms which feed on algae. The Oxazepam exposed fish also ate faster. Scientists worry that their more robust appetite could lead to ecological disturbances. "If the zooplankton decrease in number, the algae might increase, and you could have a situation where you have more algal blooms," Jonsson said. This study is just one of the many that are showing a correlation between pharmaceuticals in our waterways and their effect on aquatic animals. Some drugs act differently on aquatic animals than they do in humans. The full effects are not known. It will take researcher scientists years to see the long-term effects of these chemicals on wildlife. Pharmaceutical medication can do more than just poison aquatic animals. A study at Minnesota's St. Cloud State University presented how the fathead minnows that were exposed to different antidepressants in the laboratory became slower at avoiding predators.


There is a link between geographical areas with naturally high levels of lithium in the water and low rates of suicide. Some researchers believe clinical trials should test whether adding trace levels of lithium to a community's water supply can improve people's moods and reduce suicide rates and reduce the need for mood stabilizing medications. Lithium is a metal salt compound. Natural forms of lithium are less concentrated and are made differently than the prescription forms of lithium used as a drug. 


Endocrine-disrupting chemicals, (EDC), can include pharmaceuticals, personal care products, (PCP), general anthropogenic (man-made) compounds, pesticides, biogenic (naturally occurring) compounds, or inorganics. An unknown number of the more than 87,000 chemicals that are manufactured worldwide may possess endocrine-disrupting properties; the U.K. Institute for Environment and Health lists 966 known and potential EDCs (Streets, S.; Ferrey, M.; Solem, L.; Preimesberger, A.; Hoff, P). Many cosmetics are not biodegradable and can get into our water system. Topical medications, sunscreens, perfumes, and other skin applications also find their way to our waterways. People may think these topical skin applications are not dangerous because they are not necessarily considered medication, but they are harmful to people and living organisms in the waters. The compounds in topical creams and cosmetics continuously release biologically active ingredients into the environment causing adverse effects on humans and marine life. Humans are exposed to personal care products or PCP throughout their lifetime, even during intrauterine development. Whatever the mother ingests or uses on her skin will be absorbed into her blood system and passed on to her child. 


Certain body lotions and washes and makeup contain ingredients that are a danger to a developing human fetus. Doctors might advise the expecting mother to avoid these personal care products even postpartum since they can pass on through breastmilk. The direct routes of exposure are inhalation, dermal contact, ingestion, and absorption, while indirect ways involve using other products and environmental contamination (Heudorf U, Mersch-Sundermann V, Angerer). Effects of PCPs often last for weeks by producing an individualized response through altered steroid/pheromone levels and changed bacterial/archaeal diversity (Bouslimani). For example, the average person's daily dermal route of exposure to titanium dioxide can range from 3 to 20 mg. The main contributors are sunscreen and toothpaste. 


The primary exposure route of PCPs is municipal wastewater. Research has concluded that raw sewage and wastewater runoff are significant sources of pharmaceuticals found in surface waters and drinking water. During their regular activities such as bathing, cleaning, showering, and washing, households and consumers dispose of PCPs in toilets. The non-biodegradable PCPs discharges through the wastewater treatment plants enter the receiving waters (Hopkins and Ternes). Women are more regular users of several PCPs than men. Women use more face cream, body lotion, perfumes, and hair dye. They are potentially using more chemicals daily than men. The chemicals that are not absorbed are getting washed off down the drain into the sewer. Some personal care products contain endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). These harmful chemicals can directly interfere with your hormonal system. With certain cancers being hormonally induced these EDCs are a necessary concern. Fragrance, which is an aesthetic content, is often added to PCPs, especially products made for women.  Humans are unintendedly exposed to the fragrance. Nearly 60% of fragrances through the water sewage system enters the general environment. Most wastewater treatment methods could not remove the fragrance compound; therefore, it ends up in rivers and streams. (Bickers and Bridges.)


Benzene is a cancer-causing chemical. It is widely used in products made in the United States. Certain companies use benzene to make other chemicals that are then used to make plastics and synthetic fibers. Benzene is also used to make pesticides and drugs. It is found in many personal care products. Shampoos, deodorants, and sunscreens are just a few of the items benzene is found. Exposure to benzene can occur through the skin, as well as by inhalation or ingestion, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It is colorless and flammable and quickly evaporates in the air. Benzene is relatively soluble in water. Benzene is extremely harmful to cells causing DNA damage and cell death. These processes increase the risk for cancer. It can also cause bone marrow not to produce enough red blood cells, leading to anemia.


The need for sunscreen in preventing sunburns and skin cancer is unquestionable. Dermatologists recommend everyone use sunscreen when spending time in the sun. When someone is shopping for good sunscreen there are chemicals one should avoid for the sake of the person's health as well as the environment. The list for harmful ingredients in sunscreen is long but some chemicals are more harmful than others. People should stay clear of oxybenzone, octinoxate, benzophenone-1, benzophenone-8, and 4-methyl benzylidene camphor. In recent years, scientists have been concerned about sunscreen chemicals, specifically oxybenzone having a harmful impact on marine life. The concern is for the bleaching of coral reefs. Oxybenzone acts as a UV ray on human skin. Oxybenzonein does something different in ocean water; it damages young coral's DNA and causes them to start bleaching. A 2015 study from Haereticus environmental laboratory showed that oxybenzone could cause serious damage to corals at concentrations as low as the equivalent of one drop of water in six-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools. Methyl benzylidene camphor can be toxic to certain kinds of mussels, sea urchins, zebrafish, and certain species of plankton. These toxic sunscreen chemicals can decrease the fertility of female fish which can have long-term consequences on the world's fish populations. Dolphins also seem to be harmed by sunscreen chemicals. The accumulation of these harmful chemicals can build up in their tissues and hurt their DNA. These DNA mutations can get passed along to their babies. On May 1, 2018, Hawaii’s state law passed a bill prohibiting the sale and distribution of sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate. Sewer treatment systems are not designed to remove these chemicals, so the chemicals pass through to the waterways and then out to the oceans. Environmentally concerned people should look for sunscreen brands that have zinc oxide or titanium dioxide base without nanoparticles. The sunscreen should be a cream or gel and not a spray.  


Lipophilic (tending to combine with or dissolve in lipids or fats ) substances of PCPs migrate into the sludge and sediments of the wastewater. They can then continue to contaminate the soil. Aquatic animals are not the only ones affected by personal care products. Plant (food-type plant, not wastewater treatment) roots can take up PCPs in the wastewater and then accumulate in the edible parts of the plant. This can happen in agricultural fields leading to accumulative contamination through the food chain. How far the PCPs are transported between different environmental ecosystems depends on how well the compound is absorbed. If the compound makes it through the wastewater treatment plant's filtration process, will it enter the soil or water-sediment system? Scientists have found PCPs in sludge samples through adsorption. The sludge creates a pathway for the compounds to enter the environment by applying sludge to crops (or lawns) as fertilizer. Runoff from landfills that contain PCPs may leach into groundwater or surface water and harm aquatic life and human life.


 A pollutant list was developed by the European Union (E.U.) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). The list identified different kinds of chemicals in our wastewaters and stormwater runoff that may threaten rivers, streams, and groundwater. In 2000, a list of 33 priority substances was identified by the E.U. Water Framework Directive (WFD) 2000/60/E.C. to be monitored as a control measure till 2020. Diclofena , iopamidol, musks, and carbamazepine were recognized as possible dangerous chemicals. Ibuprofen, clofibric acid, triclosan, phthalates, and bisphenol A are proposed additions to this list (J.B. Ellis). 


 All people should be made aware of the potential harm from the negligent use of chemicals.  The best way to limit pharmaceutical and other chemical contamination in the waterway are to keep drugs from entering them in the first place. Medication take-back programs and education on the proper disposal of drugs are critical steps in protecting the water from contaminants. Some states have already implemented medication take-back programs and other states plan on following suit. More research will be needed to see the long-term effects on human and wildlife health. Currently, scientists see the short-term effects on marine life, but don’t know the biological effects on human life. 


A partial list of abbreviations used in this paper:  

API – Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients

EDC – Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals

PCP – Personal Care Products

WWTP – Wastewater Treatment Plant



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