Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) comprise a diverse and vast group of chemicals including, but not limited to, prescription and over-the-counter human drugs, veterinary drugs, diagnostic agents, nutritional supplements and vitamins, and other consumer products such as fragrances, cosmetics, and sun-screen agents. PPCPs include a broad array of synthetic and naturally occurring compounds that are not commonly monitored or regulated.

Drug Disposal

Remove all expired, unused, or unwanted medications from your home:

  • Dispose of unused medications at 24/7, anonymous drug disposal sites; or medication disposal tips
  • The RI Attorney General's Office publishes updates on the Semi-annual Prescription Take Back Day sponsored by the US Drug Enforcement Administration; for more information -

If you cannot get to a drug disposal site, dispose of medications at home:

  • Take the medicine out of its original container and mix with cat litter or used coffee grounds.
  • Put into a disposable container with a lid or into a sealable plastic bag.
  • Conceal or remove any personal information (including prescription number) on the empty containers.
  • Put the sealed container or bag and the empty medicine bottles in the regular trash.

Most drugs should not be flushed because of harm to our water resources and aquatic life (see below); however the Food and Drug Administration recommends flushing prescription pain medications. These drugs should be immediately flushed when they are no longer needed to prevent accidental ingestion.

If you are not sure whether or not to flush, read the label on the medication.

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in our Waters

  • PPCPs enter both the soil and aquatic environments through a variety of sources, including, but not limited to, wastewater treatment facility effluent, septic systems, combined sewer overflows, treated sewage sludge, landfill leachate, industrial effluent, and animal feed lots. Contributions to the environment from these sources remain poorly characterized.
  • Medications can end up in our waters due to the improper disposal into our sewer and septic systems (see above). However, a larger percentage of these medications are released to the environment by means of human waste going into our wastewater systems.
  • PPCPs are being detected in groundwater, streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and drinking water supplies of the Northeast at very low concentrations. New and improved analytical detection methods have enabled the detection of these chemicals in our waters at very low concentrations, often found in the parts per trillion range or less.
  • Currently there are no US EPA/state water quality standards or drinking water standards for most of these individual chemicals.
  • These compounds are not routinely monitored for as part of federal or state monitoring programs, and much of the monitoring to date has depended on specific research projects.
  • The presence of these chemicals in our waters has been linked to impacts on aquatic species, including changes in fish sex ratios, development of female fish characteristics in male fish, changes in nesting behavior by fish, and adverse effects on invertebrates.
  • At this time, many unknowns remain regarding the potential for adverse effects on public health and the environment from PPCPs in the environment. No scientific studies have documented evidence of human health impacts of PPCP in drinking water.

For more information, visit: New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Association Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Product Workgoup website at

Contact info: Mark Dennen, Office of Waste Management, 401-537-4323 or

Additional Resources