The Environmental Working Group reports today that laboratory tests found high levels of the estrogen-like chemical bisphenol A on 40% of cash register receipts from major U.S. businesses.
First, baby bottles. Then food-can linings. Now, a toxic substance watchdog group is sounding the alarm about the chemical bisphenol A in another everyday item: cash register receipts.
A new study by the Environmental Working Group found that U.S. consumers are regularly exposed to bisphenol A by handling heat-activated paper receipts from major retailers, convenience stores, bank machines and even the post office.
The ubiquitous chemical, also known as BPA, has come under increasing scrutiny for its links to early puberty, obesity, cancer and neurological damage. Early this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration reversed its de-cadeslong position on the chemical, saying that children’s exposure to bisphenol A was of “some concern.”
Most of the attention thus far has focused on plastic food packaging and can linings, where bisphenol A can leach into foods like soups, soda, baby formula and beer. But the Environmental Working Group study underscored that consumers may well be coming into contact with high levels of bisphenol A from unexpected quarters.
“There’s an understanding that BPA is in just about everyone’s body,” said Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at Environmental Working Group and co-author of the study. “But to find these uncharted routes of exposure is really amazing.”
The group is calling on companies that use the chemical in paper to switch to non-BPA products and for federal regulators to craft a policy phasing out use of the substance.
But industry trade group American Chemistry Council said the concerns about bisphenol A exposure are overblown.
“Biomonitoring data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that exposure to BPA from all sources, which would include typical exposure from receipts, is extremely low,” according to a statement from the council.
When heat is applied to coated thermal paper, bisphenol A reacts with dye to form black-and-white or colored print-outs. Other types of printing technology, like inkjet machines, use less, if any bisphenol A.
For the study, Lunder and her colleagues collected 36 receipts from a variety of registers at grocery stores, pharmacies and ATMs. More than a dozen of the receipts showed levels of bisphenol A at between 0.8 percent and 3 percent by weight, the researchers found.
Although little is known about whether bisphenol A from thermal paper enters the bloodstream, a Swiss study published last month demonstrated that, through regular contact, BPA can no longer be washed off and can lodge in deep levels of the skin.
The report detected bisphenol A in receipts from CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, Walmart, Safeway and the U.S. Postal Service.
Some paper manufacturers – including industry giant Appleton Papers Inc. – have phased out BPA in their products. And receipts from registers at Target, Starbucks and Bank of America ATMs, were BPA-free or contained only trace amounts, the study said.
E-mail Kelly Zito at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page C – 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle