Study Finds BPA in Store Receipts; Health Effects as Yet Unclear

By Joseph Calamia | July 28, 2010 1:46 pm

receiptWhen you hear mention of BPA, or bisphenol-A, plastic bottles and food containers likely come to mind. Now, a report presented by activists at the Environmental Working Group says the chemical is also in some paper store receipts.

In the study, which has not been peer reviewed, the environmental group looked for BPA in 36 sales receipts. They found that about forty percent used thermal paper (which has a chemical coating that changes colors when heated) that contained 0.8 to nearly 3 percent pure BPA by weight, 250 to 1,000 times greater than the amount of BPA typically found in a can of food or a can of baby formula. Other research, their report says, shows that BPA can transfer from receipts to a person’s skin, but how much BPA transfers or if it penetrates into the bloodstream remains uncertain. A chemical-industry trade group says the amount transferred is low:

“Available data suggests that BPA is not readily absorbed through the skin,” a spokeswoman from [The American Chemistry Council] said. “Biomonitoring data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that exposure to BPA from all sources, which would include typical exposure from receipts, is extremely low.”[Washington Post]

Still, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a program to determine alternatives to using the chemical in thermal paper, the group’s report says. And those alternatives shouldn’t be hard to find, says the environmental group.

“Since 60 percent of the receipts EWG tested did not contain BPA, we know there is an easy fix for retailers who still use paper containing the chemical,” Environmental Working Group senior scientist Dr. Anila Jacob told AOL News.[Time]

BPA, an estrogen-mimicking chemical used in manufacturing plastics, causes concern in part because it led to reproductive problems in animal studies. Research has shown that most people carry traces of the chemical: A study conducted from 2003 to 2004 by researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found (pdf) it in urine samples of 93 percent of 2,517 Americans tested. Still, BPA’s links to human health problems and the chemical’s leading source remain hard to confirm.

In animals, fetal exposures to BPA can be especially risky, sometimes fostering brain, behavioral or reproductive problems. Canada and some states are moving to ban polycarbonate plastic in baby bottles for that reason. And heart data suggest that even adult exposures to BPA might cause harm… A vexing question has been where people are acquiring the BPA that taints nearly everyone’s body. Last year, green chemist John Warner argued that his data suggested store receipts could be a — if not theleading source. [Science News]

Charts including the locations, retailers, and amounts of BPA represented in the study are available here.

Related content:
80beats: BPA-Heart Disease Link Confirmed, But Levels in People Have Declined
80beats: BPA Won’t Leave Public-Health Conversation—or Your Body
80beats: Plastic Is More Biodegradable Than We Thought. (That’s Bad.)
80beats: FDA Declares Chemical in Baby Bottles Safe, But Doubts Remain
DISCOVER: The Dirty Truth About Plastic

Image: flickr /Dan4th

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • A2B2

    Bad news for people that eat their receipts.

  • scott

    “Would you like your receipt in the bag?” –
    “Yes, please, in the bag so I dont have to touch it”.

  • Jay Fox

    That report from the EWG pointed to animal studies that showed epigenetic changes following BPA exposure. These are PERMANENT genetic changes that are passed to subsequent generations. What these changes are remains to be seen, as do actual human effects. My first guess would be developmental disorders, such as autism.

    Stargate SG1 fans would appreciate this. Remember the Aasgard? The ancient race that poisoned their genomes to the point of reproductive failure. They persisted only because they cloned new bodies and “transferred” their consciousness to the clones, which also were not perfect and eventually failed. The race on the series eventually dies out, killed by their own technology. Were the series writers giving us a tale of caution regarding our own technology and it’s applications?

    Will this be another example of science fiction preceding/predicting the future?

    In the meantime, science will eventually show real problems associated with this and other chemicals. I can see the TV commercials now: “Are you having issues related to chemical X? Call us for a free consult. You pay nothing until we get results!”

  • Appleton Papers

    Appleton Papers, which makes more than 50 percent of the receipt paper sold in the U.S., stopped using BPA in 2006. After reviewing available science we concluded removing BPA from our thermal products was the responsible thing to do. In doing so, we gave retailers and restaurants a safe, easy and cost-competitive choice. Our BPA-free thermal receipt paper is available globally.

    We realize that many of our competitors continue to use BPA despite mounting concerns about its safety. We are actively participating in the EPA’s BPA Alternatives in Thermal Paper Partnership. We hope the remainder of the thermal paper industry moves away from potentially harmful BPA. More information about the partnership is available on the EPA website:

    For more information about Appleton and our BPA-free thermal paper products, visit

  • Nancy Rutigliano

    BPA is the hot button issue, but there is more. Duplicate receipts and thermal paper contain formaldehyde, toluene diiso cyanates, lodyne, PFOAs, PFOSs, alkyl phenol resins, pesticides and more. This should have never been allowed in the hands of people. CPSC, NIOSH, OSHA, EPA and TSCA enforcement dropped the ball. It should never have been permitted into the mixed paper stream and now it has contaminated our post consumer paper and our waterways. Is it any wonder that 93% of Americans have BPA in their blood stream? Is it any wonder that our children are born with neurological deficits? Dr. Kaye Kilburn wrote about chemical brain injury stating, “We are going to be a nation of social misfits.” We already are.

  • festival

    Yfter all thats enounced and done I m curious to get word how many peoples truly realise mcdougal has merely revealed. Many thanks.

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