Household Contaminants

Unit 1: Household Contaminants

What goes down the drain doesn’t go away!

Essential question: 

How do the goods we buy and the products we use at home contribute to pollution and impact water quality in the Columbia River?

Learning objective: 

Students will develop insights into the products we use and the impact to human and environmental health.

Next Generation Science Standards:

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas (Grades 6-8)

  • MS-ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth System
  • MS-PS1 Matter and Its Interactions

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (Grades 6-8)

  • Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems
  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems


Did you know that many of the products we use at home and on our bodies make their way to the Columbia River? 

Pharmaceuticals and personal care products are a diverse group of chemicals that include drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter medications) and other consumer chemicals such as fragrances in lotions and soaps, ultraviolet filters in sunscreens, and chemicals in cleaning products and cosmetics. Studies show these chemicals can pass through wastewater treatment processes and contaminate the Columbia River. 1 They may go down the drain, but they don’t go away.

These chemicals can be persistent and bioaccumulative, meaning they don’t break down in the environment and can accumulate in the food web. Some of these chemicals are endocrine-disrupting compounds that can block or mimic hormones, and cause reproductive harm to fish, wildlife, and even people. Researchers have detected pharmaceuticals and personal care products in wastewater treatment plant discharge pipes going into the Columbia River, as well as in the Columbia River itself and in the species that call it home. 2 Explore the activities below to learn about the products we use in our homes and on our bodies and how they can impact the Columbia River.


  • Bioaccumulation– the gradual accumulation over time of a substance (especially a contaminant) in a living organism
  • Persistent – persistent chemicals (sometimes called “forever chemicals”) are compounds that are resistant to environmental degradation
  • Toxic- poisonous (Note: Toxin refers to poisons produced naturally by plants, animals, and bacteria. Toxic refers to synthetic, man-made, poisonous chemicals)
  • Pharmaceutical- a compound manufactured for use as a medicinal drug
  • Endocrine disruptor- chemicals that mimic or interfere with the body’s hormones, known as the endocrine system. These chemicals are linked with developmental, reproductive, brain, immune, and other problems.

Link to all Pollution Prevention Vocabulary Terms

Household Contaminant Activities

Explore hands-on and thought-provoking activities

Additional Resources:

This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement RB 01J73501 to Columbia Riverkeeper. The contents of this website subpage do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency, nor does the EPA endorse trade names or recommend the use of commercial products mentioned in this document.