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Toilet paper, a ubiquitous product used globally, has been identified as a new source of “forever chemicals” in wastewater. A recent study by scientists at the University of Florida published in Environmental Science & Technology Letters, has found that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a cancer-linked chemical, is present in toilet paper. PFAS is notorious for its presence in jet fuel firefighting foam and industrial discharge and is linked to several illnesses, including kidney and testicular cancer. The paper production process often includes PFAS as additives during the wood-to-pulp conversion process, making paper mills a known source of environmental contamination.
The study’s authors asked volunteers to collect toilet paper sold in North, South, and Central America, as well as in Africa and Western Europe, and evaluated sewage sludge samples from eight wastewater treatment plants in Florida. They extracted PFAS from both the paper particles and sludge solids and analyzed them for 34 different compounds. The scientists observed that toilet paper was responsible for about 4 percent of the most common type of diPAP in U.S. and Canadian sewage. In Sweden and France, the figure climbed to 35 percent and 89 percent, respectively.
The authors expressed optimism that consumer product choices and discard practices could ultimately help inform regulations aimed at curbing PFAS content in wastewater. The reduction in PFAS is critical since wastewater effluent and sludge are commonly reused for irrigation and/or land application. Research has already shown that these two pathways pose a risk for human and environmental exposure to PFAS.
To make a change, it is essential to look at more environmentally friendly alternatives to standard toilet paper, which may contain PFAS. Researchers did not assess other alternatives such as bamboo-based rolls. As consumers, we can make a difference by switching to toilet paper brands that do not use PFAS or opt for reusable and washable cloths.
The study has shown that toilet paper is contributing to environmental Pollution in several parts of the world. While it is still unclear how much PFAS exposure from toilet paper is dangerous, it is essential to take action to reduce PFAS in wastewater. As consumers, we have the power to make a difference by choosing environmentally friendly products and urging companies to create sustainable alternatives. It is time to start taking our impact on the environment seriously, one roll at a time.
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