Pay with Cash, Reduce Cancer Risk?

3 mins read

BPA is best known for controversy over its use in baby bottles
BPA is best known for controversy over its use in baby bottles

Controversial plastic hardener bisphenol-A (BPA), best known for the extensively-reported controversy over its use in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, has shown up somewhere new: receipts from retail cash registers.

A new study, commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), found that 40 percent of receipts printed on heat-activated synthetic paper by cash registers and credit-card readers from Chevron, McDonald’s, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, Safeway, the U.S. Postal Service, Walmart and the U.S. Postal Service contained between .8 percent and 3 percent BPA by weight.

The chemical is used as a coating for the rolls of paper fed into cash register and credit-card reader printers, where it reacts with heat to form the black dye that displays the purchase amount.  While 3 percent might not sound like much BPA, the report says that “wipe tests conducted with a damp laboratory paper easily picked up a portion of the receipts’ BPA coating, indicating that the chemical would likely stick to the skin of anyone who handled them.”

To make matters worse, according to a July study conducted by Swiss scientists, BPA can penetrate the skin to such a depth that it cannot be washed off, meaning that it could leach directly from receipts into the bloodstream. The scientists also found that up to 10 times more BPA is picked up by fingers that are “wet or very greasy.”

Health risks of BPA exposure are disputed, but various studies have linked it to breast cancer, heart disease and other problems, according to USA Today. The FDA called for “reasonable steps to reduce human exposure to BPA in the food supply” announced $30 million in funding for additional BPA research in January.

If you’re concerned about BPA exposure, EWG recommends you take the following steps:

  • Decline receipts at gas stations, ATMs and retail outlets, or use email receipts whenever possible.
  • Keep receipts in a separate envelope in a wallet or purse to avoid casual contact.
  • Never give a receipt to a child.
  • Wash your hands after handling receipts, but don’t use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer like Purell.  The Swiss study mentioned earlier showed that those products can make your skin more susceptible to BPA absorption.
  • Never recycle thermal paper. Recycling thermal paper can contaminate recycled paper with BPA.
  • If you’re not sure if your receipt is on thermal paper, try rubbing it with a coin. Thermal paper will discolor due to the friction of the coin, regular paper will not.

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