Receipts May Expose Us to High Levels of BPA

By Ben Thomas | October 27, 2014 11:28 am


You probably know bisphenol A (BPA) as the controversial chemical in hard plastic food and drink containers, such as baby bottles and Nalgene water bottles. In recent years many companies have voluntarily eliminated BPA from their plastics due to research that shows that it can damage women’s fertility and possibly pose a threat to young children. But another source of BPA is less well known: cash register receipts. And a new study reports that when people handle BPA-coated receipts after sanitizing their hands, they get a rapid spike of BPA in their bloodstream.

While BPA is commonly found at low levels in peoples’ blood, researchers are concerned that elevated levels may lead to dangerous hormonal and neurological disruptions.

Hand Hazards

Thermal receipt paper, the kind that turns dark when scratched, is often coated with BPA as a developer. A team led by Annette Hormann from University of Missouri set out to measure how much BPA moves from this receipt paper to a person’s hand. Previous studies have looked just at dry hands handling receipts, but Hormann knew that certain hand sanitizers and other skin-care products include so-called “dermal penetration enhancers” – chemicals that help the liquids get into your skin.

With this in mind, the researchers had ten volunteers each coat his or her hands with hand sanitizer, then handle unused receipt paper for 4 minutes. Then the subjects ate a basket of French fries – a scenario that could play out, for instance, after someone grabs their food at a fast food counter.

An hour and a half later, researchers took a blood and urine sample to compare to subjects’ baseline BPA levels. They found that blood levels in some people had elevated more than ten times what they originally were. And they found total BPA in urine clocked in at 20 µg BPA/g creatinine – a level that has been associated with a significant increase in the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes in previous studies.

The researchers also found that a full 4 minutes of contact with the receipt paper wasn’t needed. Just 45 seconds of contact, after using hand sanitizer, resulted in the same amount of BPA being transferred to people’s skin.

A final experiment analyzed the levels of BPA in the blood of people who touched receipt paper with dry (i.e., un-sanitized) hands. Dry-handed volunteers got only about one percent as much BPA on their hands as the wet-handed volunteers did – meaning that recent use of hand sanitizer definitely increases the levels of BPA that can enter a person’s body from receipt paper. The results appeared last week in PLOS ONE.

Contamination Concerns

The findings are concerning, says Laura Vandenberg, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, who was not involved with the study. “In a fast food setting, I’ve seen sandwiches being placed directly on top of receipts, people putting the receipts in their mouths when they have a lot of items to carry, and people using receipts as napkins to wipe their mouths,” she says. “This should remind us that actual users don’t always handle materials the way we think they do.”

The team behind the current study say that it provides support for the EPA’s 2014 recommendation that thermal paper should be replaced with safer technologies. In the meantime, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group offers tips to minimize your exposure to BPA via receipts, including washing your hands after handling a receipt and before touching food.


Image by / Shutterstock


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine, top posts
MORE ABOUT: personal health
  • SwitchCode9


    • Ash

      Considering we formed in an environment which doesn’t care whether or not it is nice or nasty to us we are already used to rubbish bombarding us.

  • Fran Murphy

    The EWG suggests paying for your food and leaving it unattended while you wash your hands?

  • Ash

    The problem here I see is you mentioned the EWG. I have found them untrustworthy scientifically from previous visits.

    • Jerry Stuckle

      What’s untrustworthy? The study was performed by the University of Missouri, not EWG.

  • Uncle Al

    1) Don’t use hand sanitizer. Imposed second- and third-order safety devices are typically more hazardous (and way more expensive) than their absence, re tens of millions of cars whose airbags blast metal shrapnel into necks given the chance.

    2) Are supermarket checkers statistically heir to all the Official evils of BPA on register tapes? They grab and tear free every tape issued, ~100/checker-day.

    3) Substitute a less Officially hazardous replacement for BPA. Tris-(4-dimethylaminophenyl)methane cyanide and the like are excellent intense chromogens. Now, complain about the cyanide, as remarkable volumes of vinyl cyanide to make WWII fuel-resistant rubber hoses were recalled. Use tris-(4-dimethylaminophenyl)methane nitrile instead

    Luckily, a clever chemist found acrylonitrile worked just as well for fuel hoses as vinyl cyanide, hence nitrile rubber (nicely attacked by fuel ethanol). Any layman can appreciate the important difference:

    H_2C=C(H)CN vinyl cyanide
    H_2C=C(H)CN acrylonitrile

    • brian

      Oh yeah. Totally. Lookie there.

  • Ted

    How abut a fast food worker who touches 150 receipts a day a washes or sanitizes 75 times a day?

    • Sherry

      Every cashier, regardless of fast food, supermarket, or department stores must have a much higher risk.

  • Sherry

    I’ve worked 15 years as a cashier, and we do use thermal paper which does turn dark when scratched. Oftentimes, we use hand sanitizer between customers, especially during flu season
    . I hate to think how this is going to affect me and my coworkers, especially younger, pregnant girls. :(

    • Siuwa Zhao

      use disposable gloves

  • surgeen

    Why not just use plain paper to print receipts – no one needs fancy coated paper that goes straight to garbage (perhaps after being used as a napkin or some such odd thing). Corps don’t think about all this – they just market any poison for more profit. And how that garbage is disposed is another horror story.

    I’ve never liked how most everyone handles currency – the filthiest most-used thing. Reports like this keep getting published; the consumers and corps, however, keep doing what “everyone does” – great pardoning culture feeding the great swindlers.

    • anthony909

      Because thermal paper needs no ink to print, just heat which changes the composition of the paper so it costs much less.

  • TM McKeny

    Lesson here, don’t use hand sanitizer. We were all fine before it was invented.

  • tradingfool

    Hand sanitizers are a danger in them selves. The anti microbe ingredident is like washing your hands with insecticide.


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