Toilet paper represents an unexpected and "
" source of PFAS, the chemicals dubbed "
" and harmful to health, which seep into sewage and soils around the world, according to a study published Wednesday.
Perfluorinated (PFC) and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) compounds are a family of synthetic chemical compounds created from the 1940s, comprising more than 4700 molecules.
They owe their nickname to their very long life cycle.
Present in many everyday objects (cosmetics, non-stick cooking utensils, waterproof clothing, etc.), they have been associated with several types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, fertility problems and developmental disorders in children. .
Researchers in the study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, collected between November 2021 and August 2022 toilet paper rolls sold in North America, Latin America, Africa and Western Europe, as well as sewage samples from treatment plants in the United States.
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They discovered the presence of "
disubstituted polyfluoroalkyl phosphates
" - or diPAP - compounds that can transform into more stable PFAS such as perfluorooctanoic acid, potentially carcinogenic.
This discovery of PFAS in toilet paper can be explained by the fact that some manufacturers add chemical substances during the transformation of wood into paper pulp, traces of which persist in the final product.
Recycled toilet paper can also be made from fibers from materials that contain PFAS, the study says.
“Essential” to reduce their presence in wastewater
These measurements were then compared with data from other studies of PFAS levels in wastewater and per capita toilet paper usage in several countries.
The study concludes that toilet paper was the source of about 4% of diPAPs detected in the United States and Canada, 35% in Sweden and up to 89% in France.
Differences between countries, and particularly 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 emphasize that it is “
” to reduce their presence in wastewater, “
commonly reused for irrigation and/or spreading
” and therefore likely to lead to human and environmental exposure to PFAS.
The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), seized by five EU countries in mid-January, will assess a proposal to ban PFAS by 2026.