BPA (Bisphenol A) and Register Receipts

Trader Joe's recently announced that it will begin replacing paper used for register receipts with alternatives that are free of the chemicals BPA and BPS.
BPA is a chemical that is used to make a hard, clear plastic called polycarbonate.  It is also used as a color developer in thermal paper used for cash register receipts and to make the protective lining inside metal food and beverage cans.

BPA mimics what the hormone estrogen does in the human body and interferes with healthy hormonal behavior.  For this reason, BPA is called an endocrine disruptor.  BPS is a chemical with similar functions to BPA and was used to replace BPA in many products as a potentially safe alternative to BPA.  Unfortunately, studies of BPS have shown that it has similar estrogen-mimicking and endocrine disrupting properties to BPA.


Popular news articles regarding BPA and BPS in register receipts in grocery stores, restaurants, and other retail outlets have raised concerns about how much exposure employees and customers are getting from those receipts through the skin (dermal absorption).   A number of studies have looked at this potential health problem. These studies have shown that:

  • BPA content in thermal paper (register receipts) varies widely from none at all to 19 mg in a foot-long receipt (Mendum et al., 2010), but is present at some level in most receipts (Babu et al., 2015).  
  • BPA content in register receipts translates to an average 445 nanograms (ng) per day of exposure for a person weighing 70 kg (Geens et al. 2012) or 6.36 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day.  Exposures for those working with receipts all day long are higher as are exposures under certain handling conditions such as touching receipts with wet hands and after recently using hand sanitizer (Hormann et al., 2014).     
  • In contrast, BPA content in canned foods and beverages translates to an average 1,049 nanograms per day of exposure, over twice what is absorbed from register receipts (Geens et al., 2010).  
  • The U.S. EPA (and similar regulatory bodies in Europe) have set a "safe" exposure limit of 50 micrograms (50,000 nanograms) per kg of body weight per day.  That's over 7,000 times the amount of exposure that a typical person gets from handling register receipts on a daily basis.  
  • But, the U.S. EPA set this limit based on what is a traditional but now controversial toxicology approach that assumes (as a safe exposure level) a low percentage of a proven harmful dose (Von Saal et al., 2007).  


What's the Bottom Line?
  • A majority of research studies find that BPA is harmful to the human body. 
  • A majority of studies also demonstrate that BPA in certain consumer products results in exposures to people that are within safe levels as determined by government agencies in the U.S. and Europe.
  • Most people have BPA in their bodies and most people are exposed to BPA through more than one route or product.   
  • There is not, as of yet, conclusive evidence that there is a safe level of BPA exposure.
We don't know if handling register receipts is a potential health risk.  At the present time, the sum of the research says there is No Significant Risk.  However, this could easily change in the future as understanding of how BPA impacts the human body advances.

What to do?
  • Wash your hands after handling register receipts. Dry hands thoroughly after washing.
  • Avoid handling register receipts or other thermal paper with moist hands or hands recently exposed to hand sanitizer.   

Studies:

  • Babu, S., Uppu, S. N., Martin, B., Agu, O. A., & Uppu, R. M. (2015). Unusually high levels of bisphenol A (BPA) in thermal paper cash register receipts (CRs): development and application of a robust LC-UV method to quantify BPA in CRs. Toxicology Mechanisms and Methods, 25(5), 410-416.
  • Geens, T., Goeyens, L., Kannan, K., Neels, H., & Covaci, A. (2012). Levels of bisphenol-A in thermal paper receipts from Belgium and estimation of human exposure. Science of The Total Environment, 435-436, 30-33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2012.07.001
  • Geens, T., Apelbaum, T. Z., Goeyens, L., Neels, H., & Covaci, A. (2010). Intake of bisphenol A from canned beverages and foods on the Belgian market. Food Additives & Contaminants. Part A: Chemistry, Analysis, Control, Exposure & Risk Assessment, 27(11), 1627-1637. https://doi.org/10.1080/19440049.2010.508183
  • Hormann, A. M., Saal, F. S. vom, Nagel, S. C., Stahlhut, R. W., Moyer, C. L., Ellersieck, M. R., … Taylor, J. A. (2014). Holding Thermal Receipt Paper and Eating Food after Using Hand Sanitizer Results in High Serum Bioactive and Urine Total Levels of Bisphenol A (BPA). PLOS ONE, 9(10), e110509. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0110509
  • Mendum, T., Stoler, E., VanBenschoten, H., & Warner, J. C. (2011). Concentration of bisphenol A in thermal paper. Green Chemistry Letters and Reviews, 4(1), 81-86.
  • Vom Saal, F. S., Akingbemi, B. T., Belcher, S. M., Birnbaum, L. S., Crain, D. A., Eriksen, M., … Zoeller, R. T. (2007). Chapel Hill bisphenol A expert panel consensus statement: integration of mechanisms, effects in animals and potential to impact human health at current levels of exposure. Reproductive Toxicology (Elmsford, N.Y.), 24(2), 131-138. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.reprotox.2007.07.005
For more information about how to make more informed choices about environmental health and to learn how to reduce risky exposures, please visit our web pages at www.comingalongside.org.

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