Study: Toilet paper a major source of toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in wastewater

WASHINGTON – Researchers found toilet paper to be a sizable source of the toxic “forever chemicals” known as PFAS in wastewater, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters.

University of Florida scientists recruited volunteers and professors to collect toilet paper sold in the Americas, Africa and Europe. They tested samples of the paper, as well as sewage sludge samples from eight wastewater treatment plants in Florida, for 34 different PFAS compounds. 

In both the toilet paper and sewage sludge, 6:2 fluorotelomer phosphate diester, or 6:2 diPAP, was the most prevalent PFAS detected. DiPAP fragments into smaller compounds that are very persistent in the environment and harmful to human health.

“No one should have to worry about their exposure to a toxic forever chemical, especially when they are using the bathroom,” said Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group.

Paper mills are a known source of contamination – PFAS are used during the wood-to-pulp conversion process in paper production.

The researchers tested for PFAS in non-organic toilet paper and rolls made from recycled paper. Both types of paper were made with contaminated fibers. The recycled content of the toilet paper did not affect the diPAP concentrations.

“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,” said Tasha Stoiber, Ph.D., a senior scientist at EWG. 

“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 said.

“Manufacturers should take immediate steps to eliminate PFAS from their products,” she added. 

All PFAS are among the most persistent toxic compounds in existence, contaminating everything from drinking water to food, food packaging and personal care products. They are found in the blood of virtually everyone on Earth, including newborn babies.

Very low doses of PFAS in drinking water have been linked to the suppression of the immune system and are associated with an elevated risk of cancer, increased cholesterol, and reproductive and developmental harms, among other serious health concerns.

These chemicals are used in a wide range of consumer products, including personal care products, food packaging, textiles like waterproof clothing, and many others. They have also been widely used in firefighting foams and gear, a major source of contamination in the environment.

In 2020, EWG scientists concluded that flushing materials, as well as discarding or incinerating products, containing PFAS did not contain or destroy the compounds. Instead PFAS “disposal” is just another step in the contamination cycle – either the chemicals or their byproducts were just returned to the environment.

“It is critical that the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration start regulating PFAS – now,” added Faber.

Tell Congress: Stop the PFAS Contamination Crisis

We need your help to protect our environment from toxic PFAS chemicals.

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The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization that empowers people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment. Through research, advocacy and unique education tools, EWG drives consumer choice and civic action.

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