Toilet paper is a ‘potentially significant source’ of perennial PFAS contaminants

(Paris) Toilet paper is an unexpected and “potentially significant” source of PFAS, these so-called health-damaging “eternal pollutants” chemicals, which seep into wastewater and soils around the world, according to a study released Wednesday.

Perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) and polyfluoroalkyl compounds (PFAS) are a family of synthetic chemical compounds that originated from the 1940s, and include more than 4,700 molecules. They owe their nicknames to their very long life cycle.

It is found in many everyday objects (cosmetics, non-stick kitchen utensils, waterproof clothing, etc.), and has been linked to several types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, fertility problems, and developmental disorders in children.

The researchers of the study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letterswhich collected between November 2021 and August 2022 rolls of toilet paper sold in North America, Latin America, Africa and Western Europe, as well as wastewater samples from treatment plants in the United States.

They discovered the presence of “unsubstituted polyfluoroalkyl phosphate” compounds – or diPAP compounds – that can convert to more stable PFAS such as perfluorooctanoic acid, which are potentially carcinogenic.

The discovery of PFAS in toilet paper can be explained by the fact that some manufacturers add chemicals during the conversion of wood into paper pulp, traces of which are still present in the final product. The study says that recycled toilet paper can also be made from fibers from PFAS-containing materials.

These measurements were then compared with data from other studies of PFAS levels in wastewater and per capita toilet paper use in several countries.

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The study concluded that toilet paper was the source of approximately 4% of diPAPs detected in the United States and Canada, up to 35% in Sweden and up to 89% in France.

The differences between countries, especially in North America, stem from the fact that other products such as cosmetics, textiles, or food packaging are responsible for the presence of PFAS in wastewater.

The researchers stress that it is “essential” to reduce their presence in wastewater, “which is normally reused for irrigation and/or diffusion” and thus potentially leads to human and environmental exposure to PFAS.

Seized by five EU countries in mid-January, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) will evaluate a proposal to ban PFAS by 2026.

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