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You can keep the receipt

Study finds that a chemical in paper has been linked to fatal diseases

OCTOBER 14, 2010


A recent study by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) may have you thinking twice the next time you are asked to “sign here.”

According to an EWG study published last month, a chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA, has been found in cash register receipts. Although more evidence is needed, some studies have shown BPA to be linked to cancer, diabetes and heart failure.

Experts have only known about BPA for about a decade when it was first discovered in canned food and baby bottles. Used to harden plastic, BPA can also be found in numerous other products that Americans use every day including soda cans and food containers.

“[BPA] is practically inescapable in modern American life,” wrote David Knowles on TrueSlant.com last spring.

Its effect on children include behavioral problems. Aggressiveness and anxiety are not uncommon.

“Children are more susceptible to chemical and other environmental injuries because their immune system and other protective devices (i.e., blood-brain barrier) are less well-developed,” said Dr. Robert Wei, an associate professor of chemistry.

Receipts are coated with BPA and dye to bring out the receipt’s lettering after it’s heated by the cash register. The chemical then enters the bloodstream through the skin.

Wei said economics play a large part in why companies like CVS, McDonalds and Whole Foods, whose receipts were all found to have high traces of the chemical, use BPA. It is a cheap alternative to ink, he said.

“It’s a matter of economy and convenience,” said Wei. “It’s safer to use conventional paper, but the cost would be much higher.”

Colleen Cross, a cashier at Barnes and Noble bookstore in Westlake, said she would consider taking precautions while handling receipts at her job.

“It definitely concerns me,” she said. “If the risk factors were that great, I would wear latex gloves.”

Cross also expressed concern for her customers.

“Our store prints out three different receipts: one to sign, the customer’s copy and sometimes a survey,” said Cross.
“The customer handles the receipt paper as much as I do, if not more.”

Since there isn’t yet enough evidence to ban the use of BPA, the Food and Drug Administration is currently conducting a two-year, $30 million study into the chemical’s health risks. The Obama administration has promised a “fresh look” into the effects of BPA, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says is in more than 90 percent of the U.S. population’s urine.

EWG recommended that consumers touching receipts immediately wash their hands and avoid alcohol-based sanitizers, which can increase BPA absorption into the body.