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EWG Lab Tests Confirm BPA on Customer Receipts


The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has found through independent laboratory testing that 40% of cash register receipts sampled from major US businesses contain bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical thought to have significant health effects.

BPA, best known as a plastic hardener, is used to coat thermal paper used in receipts. It reacts with the dye to form black print. Because it acts as an endocrine disrupter, it has been associated with health problems such as breast cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

Read: BPA Linked to Heart Disease

The organization collected 36 receipts from stores in seven states and the District of Columbia. They were tested at the University of Missouri Division of Biological Sciences laboratory, one of the world’s foremost research facilities in its capability to detect environmentally relevant levels of BPA.

The total amounts of BPA on receipts tested were 250 to 1000 times greater than other, more widely known, sources of BPA exposure, including canned foods, baby bottles and infant formula. Wipe tests conducted by the lab found that the chemical could easily transfer to the skin of the person handling the receipt.

Among those surveyed, receipts from Safeway supermarkets contained the highest concentration of BPA. The receipt, taken from a store in DC, contained 41 milligrams of the chemical. If the equivalent amount were ingested by a 155-pound adult, it would exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe exposure limit by 12 times.

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The receipt for a McDonald's Happy Meal™ purchased in Clinton, Conn. had an estimated 13 milligrams of BPA, which equals the amount of BPA in 126 cans of Chef Boyardee Overstuffed Beef Ravioli in Hearty Tomato & Meat Sauce, one of the products with the highest concentrations of BPA in EWG's 2007 tests of canned foods.

Read: BPA - Another Reason to Avoid Canned Food

Other store receipts with high levels of BPA include CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, WalMart and the US Postal Service. Receipts from Target, Starbucks, and Bank of America ATM’s were BPA-free or contained only trace amounts.

Scientists have not yet determined how much of the BPA coating from a cash register receipt can transfer from the skin and enter the body. One study, conducted in Sweden, found that BPA can penetrate the skin to such a depth that it cannot be washed off, which raises the possibility that the chemical infiltrates the lower layers of the skin and could enter the blood stream. Another route of exposure would be from the skin into the mouth, should a person handle a receipt and then handles food or puts their fingers in their mouths.

The EWG says that this is not only a problem for product consumers, but also for the millions of Americans who work as “retail salespersons” or “cashiers” who handle hundreds of receipts each day. The organization says that retail workers carry an average of 30% more BPA in their bodies than other adults.

Read: Senators Seek to Ban BPA In Children's Products

Appleton Papers Inc. of Wisconsin, the nation's largest thermal paper maker, removed BPA from its products in 2006, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun evaluating BPA alternatives in thermal paper.

The EWG offers these suggestions to consumers to minimize their exposure to BPA in cash register receipts:
• Minimize receipt collection by declining receipts at gas pumps, ATMs and other machines when possible.
• Store receipts separately in an envelope in a wallet or purse.
• Never give a child a receipt to hold or play with.
• After handling a receipt, wash hands before preparing and eating food (a universally recommended practice even for those who have not handled receipts).
• Do not use alcohol-based hand cleaners after handling receipts. A recent study showed that these products can increase the skin's BPA absorption.
• Take advantage of store services that email or archive paperless purchase records.
• Do not recycle receipts and other thermal paper. BPA residues from receipts will contaminate recycled paper.
• If you are unsure, check whether paper is thermally treated by rubbing it with a coin. Thermal paper discolors with the friction; conventional paper does not.