Toilet paper adding to 'forever chemicals' in wastewater: study

10th of March 2023
Toilet paper adding to 'forever chemicals' in wastewater: study

Toilet paper could be responsible for a significant proportion of the "forever chemicals" in wastewater, according to a new study.

And reducing levels of these potentially harmful substances is "critical", say researchers.

Forever chemicals, or PFAS, are found in items such as cosmetics, non-stick cookware and waterproof clothing. They have been linked to cancers, cardiovascular disease, fertility problems and developmental disorders in children.

Some toilet paper manufacturers add PFAS when converting wood into pulp, which means traces may contaminate the final product. According to the new study, toilet paper should be considered a "potentially major source" of forever chemicals in wastewater treatment systems.

Even recycled toilet paper could contain the chemicals since some may have been made with fibres to which PFAS have been added, claims the study.

The researchers assessed toilet paper sold in the US, Latin America, Africa and Western Europe between November 2021 and August 2022. They also examined sewage samples from wastewater treatment plants in the US. They then combined their results with data from other studies incorporating measurements of PFAS levels in sewage and the amount of toilet paper used per capita in several countries.

The main PFAS detected were "disubstituted polyfluoroalkyl phosphates" -- or diPAPs. Toilet paper was found to contribute around four per cent of diPAPs in the US and Canada; 35 per cent in Sweden and up to 89 per cent in France.

The numbers may be lower in North America because other products are responsible for PFAS in wastewater such as cosmetics, textiles and food packaging.

Results of the study have been published in the Environmental Science and Technology Letters journal.



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