Researchers tested various toilet paper products worldwide and found that toilet paper could be considered a major source of PFAS in wastewater treatment systems.
Forever chemicals or per-and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are scrutinized by scientists and environmentalists alike due to their links to cancer, developmental conditions, and, most recently, hormone disruption in children.
PFAS can exist in the environment for an extended time, and even low levels of these chemicals are associated with health risks. Because of this, government agencies are pushing for stricter restrictions on the use of 'forever chemicals' in manufacturing processes and products to hopefully prevent PFAS from entering the environment.
Still, many commonly used products might contain these substances. Therefore, it’s critical to identify these items to help stop the influx of PFAS at the source.
To investigate possible origins of PFAS contamination, scientists from the University of Florida decided to investigate whether toilet paper, a frequently used personal care product, contained these chemicals.
Their findings appear in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.
To examine PFAS in toilet paper, the team collected samples from products sold in Africa, the Americas, and Europe. They also tested sewage samples from eight wastewater treatment plants in Florida.
The scientists found that non-organic toilet paper and products made from recycled fibers were significant sources of forever chemicals.
Specifically, they found that 6:2 fluorotelomer phosphate diester, or 6:2 diPAP, was the most predominant PFAS identified in toilet paper and sewage samples. According to previous research, 6:2 diPAP is associated with impaired testicular function in men.
In addition, the scientists estimate that toilet paper usage overall contributes 6.4 to 80 parts per billion per year of 6:2 diPAP to wastewater.
In a news release, Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the non-profit organization Environmental Working Group (EWG), says, "given the known health risks linked to PFAS exposure, it is concerning that these chemicals are present in such a common household item as toilet paper."
"This study further demonstrates the ubiquity of these toxic chemicals in our daily lives. We need to reduce PFAS contamination, phase out nonessential uses and protect public health," she adds.
"Manufacturers should take immediate steps to eliminate PFAS from their products," Stoiber concludes.
In an emailed statement to Healthnews, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) says:
"PFAS (including 6:2 diPAP) is not used in the manufacture of toilet paper, or in the production of other tissue products in the United States. The University of Florida study examines concentration information in toilet paper for PFAS including PFOA, the most studied PFAS. However, the study fails to acknowledge that PFOA is widespread in the environment. In the study, toilet paper samples tested were close to or below the limit of detection, consistent with PFOA levels found in the environment and not attributable to the manufacturing process."
AF&PA states, "Our industry is committed to product and environmental safety, and we continue to lead on product stewardship and innovation in the manufacture of sustainable and essential paper and tissue products."
- Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances in Toilet Paper and the Impact on Wastewater Systems.
- Environmental Science & Technology. Environmental Exposure to 6:2 Polyfluoroalkyl Phosphate Diester and Impaired Testicular Function in Men.
- EWG. Study: Toilet paper a major source of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in wastewater.
- The World Counts. Global Use of Toilet Paper.