Bisphenol A (BPA) is no stranger to the news. This plastics hardener, a synthetic estrogen that can cause numerous health problems, is found in many applications including food and drink packaging, bottle tops, water supply pipes, dental composites and compact discs.
Recently the National Workgroup for Safe Markets, a coalition of public health and environmental health groups such as the Breast Cancer Fund, Clean Water Action and the Environmental Health Fund, published an investigation into BPA found in canned foods titled “No Silver Lining“. Tests of the contents of 50 cans collected from 19 U.S States and Ontario, Canada found that BPA is a routine contaminant in canned foods.
Concerns about BPA in plastics especially baby bottles, containers intended to store food and water bottles have been up front and center for years. In fact, steps to remove this endocrine disrupting chemical are underway as we speak. A Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Reform Bill was introduced to Congress recently that would require chemical producers to provide data on their chemicals (including BPA) for Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) safety review.
BPA On My Receipt?
The latest BPA story to hit the news concerns BPA found on store register receipts. Researchers at the Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that 40% of the cash register receipts they tested had high levels of BPA and that the BPA found on receipts easily rubs off onto the hands of anyone who handles them. The tainted receipts came from a variety of places including CVS, Walmart, McDonald’s and Whole Foods.
Cause for Worry?
This is cause for concern because, according to “No Silver Lining“, exposure to low doses of BPA has been linked to cancer, abnormal behavior, diabetes and heart disease, infertility, developmental and reproductive harm, obesity, and early puberty, a know risk factor for breast cancer.* And we also know that BPA is in our bodies. Studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found BPA in the urine of 93% of the U.S. population* and studies by the EWG found BPA in the cord blood of newborn babies*.
My initial reaction after reading the latest reports about BPA found in receipts was “Is anything safe anymore?”. My second reaction, which hit me like a kick in the gut, was “Oh $&*%.” You see, I often hand the cash register receipts to my kids to hold as we leave the store. For whatever reason it is something they have always enjoyed and worked well to occupy them while I unloaded groceries into the car. And you know how often kids put their hands (and everything else) into their mouth! No more receipts for the kiddos. And no more for me either when I can avoid it.
Short of wearing gloves while shopping, I will definitely think twice the next time the cashier asks “Would you like a receipt?” I almost always say no to save paper but I usually take the receipts that are auto-generated during the checkout process and toss them in the recycling can when I get home. Well I won’t be doing that anymore either as the Environmental Working Group (EWG) is recommending that thermal receipts coated with BPA stay out of the recycling process so as to not contaminate recycled paper products.
What Can We Do?
The good news is that the store register receipt problem can be solved fairly easily. The culprit, the BPA coated thermal register paper, wouldn’t be hard to replace. Many retailers, such as Target and Starbucks, already use BPA free register receipts. It’s just a matter of getting the other retailers to switch to BPA-free alternatives which should ultimately convince all makers of thermal paper to discontinue incorporating BPA in their products.
In the meantime, here are the EWG’s recommendations for consumers:
- Don’t let infants or children handle receipts.
- Avoid paper receipts entirely when electronic or email alternatives are available.
- If you save receipts, keep them in a separate envelope.
- After handling receipts, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly before preparing and eating food (and that’s a good practice even when you haven’t handled receipts).
- Don’t use alcohol-based hand cleaners after handling receipts; they can increase absorption of BPA through the skin.
- Don’t recycle receipts and other thermal paper. BPA residues will contaminate recycled paper.
(By the way, it’s easy to check whether a receipt is printed on thermal paper. Just rub it with a coin. The heat of the friction will discolor thermal paper, but not conventional paper.)
The Endocrine Disruptor Exchange, led by Dr. Theo Colburn, has conducted an extensive review of 319 studies that looked at health outcomes from BPA exposure at 1 part per million or less. They document with references many different health endpoints, including the effects listed here. www.endocrine disruption.com/endocrine.bisphenol.summary.php. Accessed April 9, 2010.
Rubin BS, Lenkowski JR, Schaeberle CM, Vandenberg LN, Ron- sheim PM, Soto AM (2006). Evidence of altered brain sexual differentiation in mice exposed perinatally to low environmentally relevant levels of bisphenol A. Endocrinology 147:3681-3691
Lang IA, Galloway TS, Scarlett A, Henley WE, Depledge M, Wallace RB, Melzer D (2008). Association of urinary bisphenol A concentration with medical disorders and laboratory abnor- malities in adults. Journal of the American Medical Association 300:1303-1310.
Salian S, Doshi T, Vanage G (2009).Perinatal exposure of rats to bisphenol A affects the fertility of male offspring. Life Science. 85(21-22):742-52.
Rubin BS, Lenkowski JR, Schaeberle CM, Vandenberg LN, Ron- sheim PM, Soto AM (2006). Evidence of altered brain sexual dif- ferentiation in mice exposed perinatally to low environmentally relevant levels of bisphenol A. Endocrinology 147:3681-3691.
Sugiura-Ogasawara M, Ozaki Y, Sonta S-I, Makino T, Suzumori K (2005). Exposure to bisphenol A is associated with recurrent miscarriage. Human Reproduction 20:2325-2329.
Howdeshell K, Hotchkiss AK, Thayer KA, Vandenbergh JG, vom Saal FS (1999). Plastic bisphenol A speeds growth and puberty. Nature 401:762-764.
Kaplowitz PB, Slora EJ, Wasserman RC, Pedlow SE, Herman- Giddens ME (2001). Earlier Onset of Puberty in Girls: Relation to Increased Body Mass Index and Race. Pediatrics 108(2): 347-353.
Stole B (1998). Western diet, early puberty, and breast cancer risk. Breast Cancer Research and Treatment 49:187-193.
Calafat AM, Ye X, Wong LY, Reidy JA, Needham LL (2008). Exposure of the U.S. population to bisphenol A and 4-tertiary- octylphenol: 2003–2004. Environmental Health Perspectives 116(1):39-44.
Environmental Working Group. Human Toxome Project. 20 samples of infant cord blood were tested and more than 200 chemicals were found in each. www.ewg.org/sites/ humantoxome/participants/participant-group.php?group= In+Utero/newborn. Accessed April 9, 2010.