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Frequently Asked Questions on Pharmaceutical & Personal Care Products (PPCPs)

1. What are PPCPs?

2. Why has DEP begun sampling for PPCPs? Is there any reason for concern?

3. Is New York City drinking water safe to drink?

4. What are the sources of PPCPs?

5. What PPCPs did DEP find?

6. What are the regulations that cover PPCPs in drinking water?

7. Should I be concerned about drinking tap water?

8. Is it necessary to buy bottled water or filter my water?

9. Do other cities and towns have PPCPs in their drinking water?

10. What can I do to help?

11. What is DEP doing to ensure our drinking water remains safe?

12. Where can I go for additional information?

13. Glossary of acronyms


1. What are PPCPs?

PPCPs stands for a group of compounds titled Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products.  PPCPs are being investigated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and many other scientists to determine whether they are potentially present in water at extremely low concentrations (parts per trillion).  The pharmaceutical compounds being investigated include a variety of prescription and over-the-counter drugs; the personal care products being investigated include but are not limited to: fragrances, disinfectants, sunscreen, preservatives, and wetting agents (such as in soaps).   There is no evidence that detection of trace amounts of these substances at such low levels is cause for alarm. 

2.  Why has DEP begun sampling for PPCPs?  Is there any reason for concern?

There is no reason for concern about the safety and wholesomeness of New York City’s (NYC’s) tap water.  As a leader in water quality, operating the largest unfiltered water supply in the world, we at DEP are committed to maintaining the highest standards of watershed protection and to achieving our mission of providing a safe, reliable and sustainable water supply, well into the future.  As part of this commitment, we routinely work with water industry trade groups including the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) and the American Water Works Association (AWWA), as well as a broad array of research scientists, to track newly emerging issues of potential importance to the water industry and the public.  The presence of miniscule concentrations of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) and other emerging contaminants in water has been documented, nationally and internationally, for many years now.  However, recent advances in testing methods have enabled DEP to accurately assess the issue directly within the NYC watershed.   DEP initiated a PPCP occurrence study as part of an effort to enhance DEP’s nearly 50,000 yearly samples and 500,000 yearly tests of microbiological, chemical, and physical measures of quality, and to broaden our understanding of whether there are any specific concerns unique to the NYC watershed.  The minuscule amounts of PPCPs detected are no cause for concern.

3. Is New York City tap water safe to drink?

Yes, beyond any doubt.  New York City’s water supply system provides some of the world’s best drinking water.  Although a few Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) compounds have been detected in the source water, NYC’s drinking water is safe to consume.  DEP’s water quality monitoring program is far more extensive than required by law and insures that the quality of the City’s drinking water remains high and meets all health-related State and federal drinking water standards.  The results of DEP’s distribution water quality monitoring program are published each year, as required under the Safe Drinking Water Act and the New York State Sanitary Code, and anyone can request a copy by calling 311.   The reports are also available on DEP’s website:  Annual Water Supply and Quality Report.

4. What are the sources of PPCPs?
Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) can originate from numerous sources, but primarily they come from people.  When people take medications, only a small portion is absorbed by the body.  In addition, PPCPs can come from fragrances, soaps, and preservatives which are found in shampoos, laundry and dish-washing detergents, and consumer products that are washed down the drain during a shower or when washing one’s hands.  According to United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA),  PPCPs “are found where people or animals are treated with drugs and people use personal care products.  PPCPs are found throughout the world in any water body influenced by wastewater, including rivers, streams, ground water, coastal marine environments, and many drinking water sources.  PPCPs have been identified in most places sampled.”[http://www.epa.gov/ppcp/faq.html#sources
5. What PPCPs did DEP find?

In 2009, DEP completed a one-year study of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products PPCPs in the source waters of the New York City Water Supply.  Every three months, samples were collected from the Catskill, Delaware, and Croton source waters using special techniques. Only miniscule amounts (parts per trillion levels) of 16  PPCP compounds (and one industrial chemical) were detected from among the more than 78 compounds we looked for during the year.  Not surprisingly, the pharmaceuticals found are in widespread use today, including caffeine, acetaminophen (the active ingredient in pain relievers like Tylenol), as well as other prescription drugs, most of which have been reported in other similar occurrence studies.  Of the compounds that were detected, most all were at miniscule concentrations, generally in the low parts per trillion (ng/L) ranges.  This is far below doses commonly prescribed or routinely consumed by the general public.  One part per trillion is equal to one drop of water in 26 Olympic-size swimming pools or one second of time in 31,000 years.

A. For a list of substances that were detected at least once in parts per trillion (ng/L) or lower click here.

B. For a list of substances that were tested for, but never found click here.

Table A:  Found at least once
All PPCPs found were at levels in parts per trillion (ng/L) or lower.
Compound** Type of Compound
Acetaminophen antipyretic, nonprescription drug
Butalbital barbiturate, pain reliever, prescription drug
Caffeine stimulant
Carbamazepine anticonvulsant, prescription drug
Cis-Testosterone reproductive hormone
Cotinine nicotine metabolite
DEET insect repellent
Diazepam antianxiety/insomnia, prescription drug
Estrone reproductive hormone
Gemfibrozil antihyperlipidemic, prescription drug
Ibuprofen anti-inflammatory, nonprescription drug
Lasalocid antibiotic
Nicotine stimulant, alkaloid
Paraxanthine stimulant, caffeine metabolite
Progesterone reproductive hormone
Sulfamethoxazole antibiotic

** Perfluorooctane Sulfonate, an industrial chemical, was also detected at
parts per trillion levels

TABLE B: TESTED FOR, BUT NEVER FOUND
1 17alpha-estradiol 32 Naproxen
2 17alpha-Ethynyl estradiol 33 Narasin
3 17beta-estradiol 34 Nonylphenol, Isomer mix
4 2,4,6 - Trichlorophenol 35 Norfloxacin
5 4-n-Octylphenol 36 Oleandomycin
6 4-tert-Octylphenol 37 Oxytetracycline
7 Antipyrine 38 Penicillin G
8 Atenolol 39 Penicillin V
9 Azithromycin 40 Pentachlorophenol
10 Bacitracin 41 Phenylphenol
11 Bezafibrate 42 Prednisone
12 Bis Phenol A (BPA) 43 Roxithromycin
13 Carbadox 44 Salinomycin
14 Chloramphenicol 45 Simvastatin
15 Chlorotetracycline 46 Sulfachloropyridazine
16 Ciprofloxacin 47 Sulfadiazine
17 Clofibric Acid 48 Sulfadimethoxine
18 Diclofenac 49 Sulfamerazine
19 Diethylstilbestrol (DES) 50 Sulfamethazine
20 Dilantin 51 Sulfamethizole
21 Diltiazem 52 Sulfathiazole
22 Doxycycline 53 Testosterone
23 Enrofloxacin 54 Tetrabromobisphenol A
24 Erythromycin 55 Theobromine
25 Estradiol 56 Theophylline
26 Estriol 57 trans-Testosterone
27 Fluoxetine 58 Triclosan
28 Iopromide 59 Trimethoprim
29 Levothyroxine (Synthroid) 60 Tylosin
30 Lincomycin 61 Virginiamycin M1
31 Monensin    

Only two compounds were detected at concentrations that were above 10 parts per trillion.  These included butalbital at a maximum concentration of 24 parts per trillion (ng/L) and caffeine at a maximum concentration 15 ng/L.  The levels of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care products (PPCPs) found in the NYC source water were generally 500-10,000 fold less than the New York State standards.

To give an example of the trace amounts detected, a person would have to consume over 200 million 8-oz. cups of water, containing the maximum concentration of caffeine detected in this study, to exceed the amount of caffeine in one 8-oz. cup of coffee.

DEP was only able to detect these compounds because laboratories are now able to use complex new methods and technologies for testing.  The concentrations of PPCPs in the water are so low that they cannot be detected unless these most advanced procedures are used.  At this time, there are only a few laboratories in the United States that have these capabilities.  DEP hired two of these laboratories to analyze the source water samples we collected, and we are continuing to work with them.  Despite using the most sensitive methods of analyses, of the 78 compounds which were tested, only 12 were detected in 50% or more of the samples collected.  

6. What are the regulations that cover PPCPs in drinking water?

Currently, the only regulations that cover Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in the NYC water supply are New York State’s generic standards for principal organic contaminants 5,000 parts per trillion ng/L and for any single unspecified organic contaminant 50,000 ng/L (10 NYCRR Part 5 – Public Water Systems).  The levels of PPCPs we found in the NYC water supply were generally 500-10,000 fold less than these standards respectively.

7. Should I be concerned about drinking tap water?

No.  The levels detected are extremely low and were found at levels similar to other studies.   Although the human health risks associated with the miniscule concentrations of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in drinking water are not known with certainty, there is currently no indication that such extremely small concentrations pose any public health risk.  Several screening level risk assessments have concluded that no significant human health risk exists for the trace levels of PPCPs detected in this and other comparable studies.  According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), "to date, scientists have found no evidence of adverse human health effects from [pharmaceuticals and personal care products] in the environment." [www.epa.gov/ppcp/faq.html#ifthereareindeed

8. Is it necessary to buy bottled water or filter my water?

You do not need to buy bottled water for health reasons in New York City, since our water meets all federal and State health-based drinking water standards.  Also, bottled water costs up to 1,000 times more per year than the City’s drinking water.  When purchasing bottled water, consumers should look for the New York State Health Department (NYSHD) CERT #.  Consumers can access additional information on New York State certified bottled water facilities within the entire United States that can be sold within New York State at www.health.state.ny.us/environmental/water/drinking/bulk_bottle/bottled.htm.  As an alternative to purchasing bottled water, use a reusable bottle and fill it with New York City tap water.
There is also no reason to spend money on filters for health reasons.  Leading research on Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) does not indicate a human health risk from PPCPs because they are only present at extremely low concentrations in drinking water.  PPCPs detected in the New York City source water were found in the part per trillion levels.  One part per trillion is equal to one drop in 26 Olympic-size swimming pools.

9. Do other cities and towns have PPCPs in their drinking water?

Yes. The issue of tiny concentrations of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) being detected in drinking water exists throughout the world.  There is a lot of information about PPCPs in the environment in the scientific literature as well as in various government publications. Wherever any forms of PPCPs are used, trace amounts of these substances can make their way into the environment.  DEP has taken a proactive approach in this new area of research, to study the levels present in the water supply’s source waters to ensure that NYC’s drinking water remains healthy and safe for generations to come.  Sources of additional information are listed below in Question 12

10. What can I do to help?

You can help to keep unused pharmaceuticals out of the water supply. First of all, pay attention to how you dispose of unused medications.  There is no way to completely eliminate the use of pharmaceuticals and personal care products; however when you do use them follow directions and use them sparingly to reduce the amount that goes unused and eventually ends up in the environment.  Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so.  For information on drugs that should be flushed visit the Food and Drug Administration’s ( FDA) web site.
Additional information is available from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC)

Links provided by NYS DEC:

11. What is DEP doing to ensure our drinking water remains safe?

DEP is continuing to conduct ongoing research and monitoring of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) in our water supply. We will also continue to work with and collaborate with other federal and State partners including the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), the United States Geological Survey (USGS), the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), the Water Research Foundation (WaterRF), and other water suppliers to assess the sources and potential as advances in research and regulations are made around the nation.  USGS and WaterRF are perhaps the greatest contributors thus far to this area of research.  Therefore, DEP worked alongside USGS when performing our own research; and we will continue to access the extensive amount of work done by both these lead agencies as we advance our own research in this area.   To see a copy of DEP’s most recent  PPCP occurrence study, follow this link or to view DEP’s Annual Quality Report click here.

12.  Where can I go for additional information?   

Drinking Water Regulations:
Safe Drinking Water Act
Clean Water Act
Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule

Other Research:

13. Glossary of Acronyms

  • PPCP Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products
  • USEPA United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • DEP NYC Department of Environmental Protection
  • AMWA Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies
  • AWWA American Water Works Association
  • USGS United States Geological Survey
  • NYSDOH New York State Department of Health
  • NYSDEC New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • NG/L Parts per Trillion

Reservoir Levels

Current: 95.6%

Normal: 87.0%