Originally published Oct. 8, 2009.
Update Dec. 8, 2010: Half the 22 thermal paper receipts tested had "large quantities" of Bisphenol A (up to 2.2% of the weight of the receipt), and nearly all dollar bills had lower amounts, presumably from rubbing up against so many receipts, according to a new report from the groups Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Washington Toxics Coalition. Because BPA rubs off receipts onto dollar bills, it's likely that it also rubs off onto human skin, where it can be absorbed or transferred to the mouth and ingested inadvertently.
Retailers in the Washington, D.C., area with BPA-containing receipts, among the small set sampled, included: Safeway, Shaw's, Meijer, Cub Foods, Sunoco, Kroger, Giant Eagle, H-E-B, Randalls, Fred Meyer, and the Rayburn Cafe in the U.S. House of Representatives. BPA-free receipts were found at Trader Joe's, Hannaford, Home Depot, Albertson's, Ace Hardware, Wal-Mart, Sears, Costco, and the Hart American Grill serving the U.S. Senate.
"Our findings demonstrate that BPA cannot be avoided, even by the most conscious consumer," said Erika Schreder, staff scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the report. "This unregulated use of large amounts of BPA is having unintended consequences, including exposure to people when we touch receipts."
Science News has the scoop on the latest Bisphenol A revelation: Sales receipts may be as big a source of exposure as the hard polycarbonate plastics dominating news about the hormone-mimicking chemical.
The amount of Bisphenol A found in receipts is orders of magnitude greater than that found in plastics, Science News quotes John C. Warner, an organic chemist and co-founder of the Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, as saying. Additionally, the BPA in most coated paper receipts and credit card sales receipts is much more freely available than the BPA in plastics, which leach more chemicals after being damaged or heated. (BPA is also found in the lining of most canned goods.) Warner believes BPA might be absorbed through the skin, in a manner similar to birth control patches and other hormone-delivery medical treatments.
Considering more than 90% of U.S. currency has traces of cocaine, just imagine how much Bisphenol A is lingering around. You stuff a receipt in your wallet, some gets on your hands and some gets on your cash. You pay for a hot dog with that cash, and some gets on your hot dog.
Warner's research hasn't been published, so other scientists have not reviewed his results. Considering the many suspected health problems associated with exposure to the synthetic estrogen -- diabetes, prostate cancer, developmental and reproductive problems, breast cancer and recently behavioral problems -- it seems wise to check this research out.
In the meantime, consumers have little recourse but to avoid receipts whenever possible, and to wash hands frequently.
For more information about Bisphenol A and the other ubiquitous hormone-disrupting chemical of the moment, phthalates, see The Daily Green's How to Avoid Bisphenol A and Phthalates. Also see how to avoid exposure to Bisphenol A and other breast cancer risk factors.
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