Is toilet paper toxic and polluting? For the time being, its rolls are under worldwide scrutiny because a recent study determined that “toilet paper should be considered as a major source of Pfas entering wastewater treatment systems.”
Pfas, in this case, are perfluoroalkyl substances, also known as perfluoroacrylic acids, which belong to a family of chemical compounds widely used by industry. That is, strong acids that are resistant to major natural degradation processes. In fact, they are “a class of about 14,000 chemicals typically used to make thousands of consumer products resistant to water, stains and heat,” and which can lead to cancer, fetal complications, liver disease, kidney disease, autoimmune diseases and lead to other serious health problems.
The study analyzed 21 major toilet paper brands in North America, Western Europe, Africa, Central America and South America, without specifically mentioning their names, but finding that the toxic Pfas substances in toilet paper once they end up “in wastewater treatment plants likely create a significant source of water pollution.”
The University of Florida report, the Guardian points out, did not, however, consider “the health implications for people who clean themselves with contaminated toilet paper,” in part because there is no research on how these substances might be absorbed epidermally.
“It’s definitely worth investigating, though,” says David Andrews, senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit public health organization that monitors Pfas pollution. Brands that used recycled paper contained as much Pfas as those that did not, to the point that “it may be that you can’t avoid Pfas in toilet paper,” said Jake Thompson, lead author of the University of Florida study.