The presence of pharmaceuticals and personal-care products (PPCPs) in aquatic environments is of concern. Although measured concentrations of individual substances are low, little consideration has been given to the likely chronic nature of the exposures or to the potential for mixture effects. The purpose of the present study was to use the RTG-2 rainbow trout cell line to analyse sub-lethal and cytotoxic effects of PPCPs present in a wastewater-treatment-plant (WWTP) effluents and their mixtures. Interactions with cytochrome P450 1A enzyme, oxidative stress, cellular senescence and cell viability were assessed using 7-ethoxyresorufin-o-deethylase (EROD), reactive oxygen species (ROS), ß-galactosidase (ß-gal) and neutral red (NR) uptake assays, respectively. Not all of the compounds that were tested exhibited significant effects. The lowest-observed-effect concentrations and half maximal effective concentrations (EC50) were within the range 0.15 to 784.47 µg l–1. Clear dose–response curves were found for cells exposed to different mixtures of PPCPs. The lowest-observed-effect concentrations and concentrations causing EC50 were within the range 0.05 to 54.61 µg l–1. Four out the seven tested mixtures induced EROD activity. ROS production was detected in two mixtures. The ß-gal inhibition response was observed in six out the seven tested mixtures and occurred at a higher concentration than was observed for EROD induction activity or ROS generation. The present study clearly shows that the stress response through which cells mount a homeostatic response to toxicants can be potentially used for an initial, rapid and cost-effective assessment of the complex mixtures of PPCP that present in WWTP effluents are difficult and expensive to analyse chemically. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.