Aquatic life needs further protection from effects of personal care products

26.09.2016 By: European Commission DG Environment

Personal care products (PCPs) are a diverse group of products, including toothpaste, shampoo, make-up and soaps. The number and use of these products has increased over recent decades, generating concern about their impact on the environment. This literature review analysed over 5 000 reports of environmental detection of 95 different chemicals from PCPs. The analysis reveals toxic levels of PCP chemicals in raw and treated wastewater, and in surface water. The researchers recommend treatment methods focusing on antimicrobials, UV filters and fragrance molecules. 

In order to fulfil a broad range of functions, PCPs contain a wide range of chemicals, from filters that block out UV light to antibiotics and insect repellents. PCPs are generally washed off the skin and, as a result, chemicals from PCPs have been found in raw and treated wastewater, surface and ground water, and even drinking water. There are potential human health implications from ingesting these chemicals by way of drinking water or seafood. In addition, the entry of PCPs into surface waters could be toxic for aquatic organisms. Some PCP chemicals that repel water are particularly difficult to remove during wastewater treatment (which aims to protect the environment from the adverse effects of pollution) and can accumulate up the food chain. Wastewater solids (sludge) and effluent are in some cases applied to land to improve soil and for irrigation purposes, respectively, creating a risk that these compounds will indirectly enter nearby water bodies, or food crops. Early findings suggest wastewater treatment processes do not always ensure a safe concentration of PCP chemicals. 

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Source:  "Science for Environment Policy": European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service, edited by SCU, The University of the West of England, Bristol.
Authors: Hopkins, Z. and Blaney, L. (2016). An aggregate analysis of personal care products in the environment: Identifying the distribution of environmentallyrelevant concentrations. Environment International, 92-93: 301-316.