Bad News: Our toilet paper has forever chemicals and they end up in our drinking water

Researchers found a high concentration of a dangerous PFAS chemical in wastewater—and a significant portion of that was coming from toilet paper. Credit: Healthline

By Derek Ren, Alliance Intern from the University of California, Los Angeles

U of Florida researchers have found 6:2 diPAP (a dangerous PFAS or “forever chemical”) is present in all types of toilet paper. It is linked to health problems such as reproductive issues, cancer and weaker immune systems. PFAS were found in every toilet paper collected from the US and around the world. PFAS chemicals are commonly used in paper manufacturing when turning wood into pulp, according to Fast Company. It is also found in a wide range of everyday items, including personal care products, clothing, nonstick pans and carpeting.

To understand the extent of PFAS pollution in water systems, researchers analyze sewage sludge left over from wastewater treatment. The sludge contains biosolid byproducts such as toilet paper. Toilet paper makes up 35% of the 6:2 diPAP found in sewage sludge in Sweden and 89% in France, but only 3.7% in North America. However, the researchers explain their findings don’t mean that toilet paper isn’t a significant source of PFAS in the US, but rather that it’s just one of many sources contributing to PFAS pollution.

“It’s not so much that in Europe they’re using more toilet paper and having more of that chemical show up. It’s more that that chemical is there in lower concentrations of their sludge, so what’s there is mostly accounted for from the toilet paper,” U of Florida researcher Jake Thompson says. “But in North America, the concentrations are so high that it couldn’t possibly all be coming from the toilet paper.”

The researchers highlight that more research was needed to understand the impact of PFAS and its sources, as well as to limit the amount of PFAS that gets into the environment. They recommend addressing the source of PFAS pollution by creating rules for manufacturers to reduce or eliminate the use of PFAS in consumer goods.

The main takeaway is that toxic PFAS chemicals are present in toilet paper and many everyday household products. They don’t break down in the environment and cause harm to wildlife and human health. Isn’t it time for us to address this?

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