Two groups published studies in 2010 showing that high levels of BPA are found on thermal paper receipts. One study found large quantities of unbound or "free" BPA on half of the receipts it tested. This form of BPA is a powdery film found on the surface of receipts; it is easily transferred to our skin. The study also found 95% of dollar bills tested carried a lower amount of BPA; presumably the chemical transferred from receipts to the paper currency. The second study found what it deemed "substantial" amounts of BPA on 40% of the receipts collected from major retailers.
A more recent study, published in the fall of 2011, found BPA on 94% of the receipts tested, even on those marketed as "BPA-free." This article notes that studies have demonstrated that 27% of BPA that is transferred onto skin surfaces penetrates the skin and reaches the bloodstream within two hours.
More bad news: the recycling of thermal paper receipts has contaminated paper products, such as paper napkins, toilet paper and food packaging with BPA, exposing us in yet other ways to this toxic chemical.
The EPA notes that the use of BPA in thermal paper could increase our cumulative exposure to this ubiquitous chemical, as well as increase direct and indirect environmental releases of BPA. It also notes the extremely high levels of BPA that can be present on a single paper receipt (in some cases 1,000 times higher than the BPA measured in canned food.) Cashiers are at greater risk of exposure; several studies have shown that cashiers and people working in retail have higher concentrations of BPA in their bodies than people in other professions. Young children are also at greater risk of exposure, because of their "hand-to-mouth" behavior. The EPA has put together a program to identify safer substitutes for BPA in the manufacture of thermal paper; a final report is due in July of this year.
What can we do to minimize our exposure to BPA from receipts? The Environmental Working Group provides some tips here including:
- Decline receipts at gas pumps, ATMs and other machines when you can
- Never give a child a receipt to hold
- Do not recycle receipts and other thermal paper! The BPA will contaminate recycled paper
- Use store services that email receipts (the J. Crew store offered me this service recently)
- Wash your hands after handling receipts, but do not use alcohol-based hand sanitizers after handling them. A study showed that these products can increase BPA absorption through the skin.