Home\Educate\Water Reuse 101\Research Projects\Year\2012\Risk Assessment Study of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Nonpotable Recycled Water to Support Public Review

Risk Assessment Study of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products in Nonpotable Recycled Water to Support Public Review

Project: 09-07 (Phase 1)
Type: White Paper
Year Released: 2012

Program: Tailored Collaboration
Funding Partners: Bureau of Reclamation, California State Water Resources Control Board
Total Investment: $234,844.50 (Cash: $200,088.00, In-Kind: $34,756.50)

Principal Investigators: Laura Kennedy (Project Manager), Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, Jean Debroux, Ph.D., Kennedy/Jenks Consultants, and Mark Millan, Data Instincts, Public Outreach Consultants


To date, discussions of human health risk during nonpotable water reuse project reviews have frequently focused on the presence of residual chemicals in highly technical terms. However, the actual effects of these chemicals on human health, if one considers likely exposure pathways and concentrations, have largely been subject to speculation in the absence of empirical data, raising concerns with the public and hindering acceptance of these projects.

Goals and Objectives

The project provides quantitative human health risk assessment results for a small group of selected pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) in recycled water for a representative set of nonpotable use cases and to develop a message delivery effort to present the results to the general public.

Research Approach

This study combined key findings of recent landmark projects on the occurrence and toxicological relevance of PPCPs with quantified exposures of typical nonpotable recycled water applications to assess risks specifically associated with PPCPs in recycled water.

An exposure assessment for nonpotable uses of recycled water was completed and the following scenarios for exposure to PPCPs from dermal contact and incidental ingestion of recycled water were evaluated in the risk assessment:

  • Child recreational exposure while playing in parks and playgrounds irrigated with recycled water
  • Agricultural worker exposure while working on fields irrigated with recycled water
  • Landscape worker exposure while working on highway medians, street landscaping, or other areas irrigated with recycled water
  • Adult recreational exposure while playing on golf courses irrigated with recycled water

Findings and Conclusions

The message delivery effort for these findings has made the results of the risk assessment easily understandable and meaningful for communications with utility management, project stakeholders, and the general public. The message delivery effort resulted in production of the following tools: a four-page background paper, a fact sheet for each exposure scenario, a 12-min video summarizing the study, message points, and answers to frequently asked questions. The tools developed use language and graphical references that the general public can more easily comprehend than scientific and reuse industry jargon, enabling water reuse agencies and municipalities to better address public opposition to recycled water projects arising from perceived health risks.

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