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Pilot Study of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Fish Tissue

March 2009

Obtaining environmental data on contaminants of emerging concern is a priority area of interest for EPA, particularly the group of chemicals that includes pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). Pharmaceuticals are prescription and over-the-counter medications, whereas personal care products include other consumer chemicals that are non-medicinal, such as the fragrances (musks) in lotions and soaps. In 2006, EPA initiated a pilot study to investigate the occurrence of PPCP chemicals in fish tissue.

Conducting the study involved the following activities:
  • Sampling fish from five effluent-dominated streams in various parts of the country and one reference site away from human sources of pollution.
  • Collecting 18-24 adult fish of the same species at each site near wastewater treatment plant discharges and forming six composite samples.
  • Teaming with Baylor University to analyze fillet and liver tissue from each set of six fish composite samples for 24 pharmaceutical compounds and fillets only for 12 chemicals in personal care products (PCPs).

Pharmaceutical Results

  • No target pharmaceutical compounds were detected in any of the composites collected at the reference site.
  • Seventeen of the 24 pharmaceutical compounds were not detected in any of the fillet or liver samples from the five sites located on effluent-dominated streams.
  • All seven pharmaceutical compounds detected in the tissue samples occurred in livers while only five were detected in fillets.
  • The pharmaceuticals that occurred most frequently were diphenylhydramine, norfluoxetine, and sertraline.
    • Norfluoxetine and sertraline (antidepressants) both occurred in livers at all five sites and in fillets at three and two sites, respectively.
    • Diphenylhydramine (antihistamine) occurred in livers at four sites and in fillets at three sites.

Personal Care Product Results

  • No target personal care product chemicals were detected in any of the composite samples collected at the reference site.
  • The PCP results are only for fish fillets. Current analytical techniques for PCPs are subject to interference from fat and other substances found in fish liver.
  • Ten of the 12 personal care product chemicals were not detected in any of the fillet samples from the five sampling locations on effluent-dominated streams.
  • Two personal care product chemicals occurred in fish fillets at all five sites: galaxolide and tonalide, which are both fragrances (musks).

Additional Information

Please contact: Leanne Stahl (, Standards and Health Protection Division, at (202) 566-0404.

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