Is your toilet paper slowly giving you cancer?

is your toilet paper giving you cancer?

Your toilet paper may contain cancer-causing chemicals, according to a recent analysis of wastewater. 

The world has been alerted to the dangers of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in recent years. Often called ‘forever chemicals’, these substances are toxic to humans and have been linked to several types of cancer. 

Naturally, efforts have been made to reduce the use of these chemicals, but their use is still pervasive. They can be found in products such as nonstick cookware, greaseproof paper, waterproof jackets and many cleaning products. 

Now, analysis of wastewater reveals another major source of these dangerous substances could be your toilet paper. 

Not quite as well known as some other uses, PFAS are added to wood when converting it to pulp to be turned into paper. These chemicals can be left behind in the end product and, ultimately, make their way into human bodies. 

In a paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters, researchers from the University of Florida collected toilet rolls from brands sold in North, South and Central America, Africa and western Europe. 

They then collected wastewater samples from several treatment facilities across the globe, and analysed them, looking for 34 chemical compounds known to make up PFAS. 

Professor Timothy Townsend, lead author of the study, told The Hill his team was inspired to conduct the study after previous research had identified PFAS in biosolids (human waste). They wanted to know how the PFAS had ended up in the waste. 

“We asked ourselves where is the chemical used, and one product is paper,” he said. 

“Hence the look at toilet paper.” 

The main chemicals they detected are known as perfluoroalkyl phosphate diester – or diPAPs. These are a type of precursor compound that have the ability to transform into various types of PFAS. 

From this analysis, they concluded that PFAS was present in around 4 per cent of toilet paper brands in the US and Canada. But this figure climbed dramatically when looking at Europe. 

PFAS were found in 35 per cent of Swedish toilet paper brands and in a shocking 89 per cent of brands in France. 

The team found no difference in PFAS levels between recycled and non-recycled toilet paper. 

Here in Australia, efforts have been made to eradicate the use of PFAS, but the focus has been more on their historical use in firefighting products rather than consumer products. 

But the presence of PFAS in new products is being detected every day, so it may only be a matter of time before their use is outlawed here completely. 

Does this news worry you? Are you concerned about PFAS? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Also read: Eight ways to reduce toxic pollutants inside your home

Written by Brad Lockyer

Brad has deep knowledge of retirement income, including Age Pension and other government entitlements, as well as health, money and lifestyle issues facing older Australians. Keen interests in current affairs, politics, sport and entertainment. Digital media professional with more than 10 years experience in the industry.

5 Comments

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  1. One thig that is great is the way people in Thailand and other Asian countries use to cleam your B … is just water mall spray connected to the toilet water inlet and hung on the wall next to the toilet – I these countries they do not use toilet paper like we do only very small amount to dry your B…

  2. Before I start, I have a simple question, how could any chemical used in the manufacture of toilet paper make it’s way into our bodies? I’ve never eaten, licked or even closely sniffed the toilet papers that I’ve used. Attempts to create a scare with no valid basis.
    The PFAS families of long change molecules have not been proven to have any adverse effects on human health from environmental exposure. They are an extremely robust and resilient chemical that bonds strongly with water molecules and have not been found to cause any problems to the health of most animals and plants.
    They have been given a mark of concern because it could not be shown 100% that they may not be a casual factor in the development of some cancers. The health conditions that they may have some effect were actually only found in a very small number of animals that were in environment situations with extraordinary high levels of contamination. What caused the deaths of these animals (one species of fish and one amphibian) was the collection for scientific exploration.
    The PFOS and PFOA families have been used in household applications for over 50 years and there have been no records of increases of any health issues from people with direct contact with the chemicals that could be specifically attributed to that contact.
    In Australia the “war” against the PFOA and PFOS appeared to have been started at the instigation of the ABC trying to shut down a number of Defence Force Bases where the PFOA and PFOS was used as a surfactant in their fire fighting liquids. If this had been something of genuine concern, the ABC would’ve included references to every airport in Australia as all have been using the chemical for many decades. And yet apart from the psychosomatic effects on nearby residents there have been no consistent adverse health effects in those with direct (but unknowing) contact.
    The irrational knee jerk reactions from a number of local authorities who previously had had no set permissible levels of contamination of ground and surface water has led to a number of them setting levels that are many levels of magnitude below that detectable by existing testing method. (This information was given to me by a scientist who works in the contaminated site detection and remediation industry.) This level has no scientific or medical basis.
    More mis and disinformation in another article written by someone who has no formal scientific education.

      • industrialchemicals.gov.au and the US EPA sites cover it well with confirmation that no adverse health effects related to PFOA and PFOS had been identified.
        “several epidemiological and medical surveillance studies of the workers at 3M plants (APFO manufacturing) in various cities of the US could not establish a link between PFOA exposure and cancer incidence.” (from the above site).
        These PFOA and PFOS have been used in every day domestic applications for over 50 years with no concern until very recently and yet the concerns are not supported by identified adverse health effects from this daily exposure.
        Apart from being used as a non-stick surface treatment for domestic cook ware, they have also been used as a fire retardant and stain repellent in fabrics used in furniture. Both pre-treated and self treated out of a readily available spray can. Present in millions of households around the world with no epidemic of related health indicators.
        You do have to ask what was the purpose of the ABC only naming a very limited number of ADF bases when they started the concern stories and ignored such locations as your nearby airports (any airport that had a fixed base fire service used PFOA and PFOS in their fire fighting foam)?
        I was initially concerned as it appeared that the ABC was seeking to close down at least one of those bases for political gain.
        Reading the studies from 3M and the US EPA confirmed all concerns were below that of any need for concern.

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