Paperless Shopping: BPA Exposure from Store Receipts
There’s an emerging trend in physical retail stores—the use of email or electronic receipts. One of the principal reasons for this change is that most credit card and U.S. store receipts use thermal paper, which contains bisphenol A (BPA) in a free, unpolymerized form that can be readily rubbed off and ingested orally or absorbed through the skin.
BPA Health Risks
According to the Environmental Working Group, more than 30 years of studies have linked BPA exposure to brain, behavioral, learning and memory impairment; cardiovascular abnormalities; diabetes; obesity; breast and prostate cancer; thyroid and sex hormone disruption; early puberty; changes to egg and sperm development and fertility; and genetic alterations that can be passed on to future generations. Of special concern are pregnant women and children, because BPA appears to disrupt hormone functions integral to growth and development.
Thermal Paper Linked to Higher BPA Levels
Despite health risks, BPA-laden thermal receipts continue to be used widely in the retail industry, exposing us to cumulative levels of the dangerous chemical. Studies have measured it in human blood, urine and breast milk. Workers that handle hundreds of receipts every day have 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than the average U.S. adult, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Steps to Reduce BPA Receipt Exposure
Thermal paper contains a powdery layer of BPA and a special dye to create visible impressions when pressure and/or heat is applied. When thermal paper is scratched with a fingernail or coin, a dark line appears. To reduce exposure, follow these precautions:
- Do not allow children to handle receipts.
- When the option is available, choose email or electronic receipts.
- Keep saved receipts in an envelope or zipped plastic bag.
- Wash hands after handling receipts, especially before preparing or eating food.
- Do not recycle receipts or other thermal papers. Throw them in the trash, as they will contaminate recyclables.
- Avoid using alcohol-based hand sanitizers before or after handling thermal receipts, because they increase absorption of BPA through the skin.
- Cashiers and other workers that handle receipts all day are advised to wear gloves and wash hands thoroughly and frequently.
Beware of BPA Replacements
Responding to consumer complaints, some manufacturers have replaced BPA with bisphenol S (BPS), expecting it to be more resistant to leaching and therefore less likely to be absorbed by people. However, BPS is detectable in human urine and has similar health risks as BPA.