- Recent research has found potentially harmful chemicals in 21 brands of toilet paper.
- The brands were tested for PFAS, nicknamed “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down.
- The study also found PFAS in sewage sludge that may be used as fertilizer or dumped in waterways.
Chemical-laden toilet paper may be a major source of water pollution, according to recent research from the University of Florida.
Researchers tested 21 major toilet paper brands for PFAS, a class of manufactured chemicals that are notoriously difficult to break down and may cause health issues like an increased risk for certain types of cancer.
PFAS have been found in drinking water, takeout containers, makeup, and a variety of home items including carpets and cookware. They’ve also been found in menstrual products, including period underwear, tampons, and pads.
The group includes as many as 14,000 chemicals, according to the latest count from the US Environmental Protection Agency.
All of the brands of toilet paper tested, which were unnamed in the study, contained some level of the compounds. There was no difference between brands that used recycled paper and those that did not, at least in terms of PFAS content.
Because the PFAS levels detected in toilet paper are relatively low, the study authors concluded that the chemicals were likely used in the manufacturing process and not intentionally added to toilet paper.
However, the chemicals in toilet paper have the potential to contaminate waterways, as the waste flushed down toilets is sent to sewage treatment plants that may not pull out PFAS. “Toilet paper should be considered as a potentially major source of PFAS entering wastewater treatment systems,” the study authors wrote.
PFAS in toilet paper could affect waterways and food
Certain chemicals in the PFAS class have been linked to multiple cancers, liver disease, thyroid disease, high cholesterol, and problems with fertility and child development.
Fortunately, coming into contact with PFAS on the skin is not a major risk factor, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most assessments show food and water are the primary sources of PFAS exposure for humans.
But keep in mind that whatever you flush down the toilet will soon make its way into sewage sludge, the study authors warned, which will eventually be dumped in waterways, according to the study. Sewage sludge is also often used as garden fertilizer, according to a 2021 report from the Sierra Club and the Ecology Center, which found PFAS in nine home fertilizer products.
More research is needed to determine how much PFAS ends up in crops grown in contaminated soil, and whether that means that we’ll be eating PFAS for dinner. The Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a risk assessment of PFAS found in sewage sludge, and the results are set to be released by the end of 2024.
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