New research by researchers at the University of Florida (USA) shows that toilet paper worldwide contains per and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that can be a major source of water pollution.
According to the study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the team tested 21 major brands of toilet paper sold in the Americas, Africa and Europe, as well as wastewater samples from eight wastewater treatment plant in Florida. Both toilet paper and sewage sludge contained PFAS, with the most frequently detected 6:2 diPAP (6:2 fluorotelomer phosphate diester).
Based on the findings and available data on PFAS levels in wastewater and per capita use of toilet paper in other countries, the researchers estimate that toilet paper could contribute up to 89% diPAP 6:2 in wastewater in France, 35% in Sweden. At the same time, sanitary utensils account for only about 4% of compounds in wastewater in Canada and the United States, according to the study.
The researchers acknowledge the stark difference, saying that "further research is needed to explore whether toilet paper could be a major cause of the high total PFAS in North American wastewater and whether diPAPs from toilet paper can be converted through wastewater collection and treatment systems”.
Brands that use recycled paper and those that use non-recycled paper have similar PFAS levels. The chemicals are not necessarily used by toilet paper manufacturers, the researchers note, but may have been incorporated into the raw paper or derived from machinery during the manufacturing process.
PFAS is a group of about 14,000 man-made chemicals, commonly used to make various consumer goods resistant to heat and water. These compounds are often referred to as "permanent chemicals," because they are virtually non-biodegradable.
PFAS chemicals will eventually contaminate groundwater and return to the food supply. These compounds have been linked to many types of cancer, fetal damage, liver and kidney disease, as well as other serious health disorders. For example, 6:2 diPAP may be associated with impaired testicular function in men, according to previous studies.