Well, this is a bummer: a new study published in the journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry found that 11 out of 13 grocery receipts tested contained bisphenol-A—and that measurable amounts of the chemical are transferred to people’s skin when they touch the receipts. (Our own Anna Fahey wrote about BPA receipts about a year ago—so this study just confirms what scientists already suspected.)
To make matters worse, a second recent study in Fertility and Sterility found that high bisphenol-A levels in men are associated with poor sperm motility and decreased sperm counts. That’s on top of the other health effects that scientists have found in animal models—which, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, includes some scary stuff:
Evidence from animal studies indicates BPA may cause adverse effects such as obesity, behavioral changes, diabetes, early onset puberty, asthma, cardiovascular diseases, reproductive disorders, development of prostate, breast and uterine cancer, and transgenerational or epigenetic effects.
Of course, the amount that you and I get from occasional contact with a BPA-laden receipt might be small. But for cashiers the risks may add up. The Environmental Working Group uncovered evidence that retail workers have higher-than-average levels of BPA in their bodies—suggesting that working with receipts really can elevate your BPA levels.
I’m sure that toxicologists could argue about the health risks of BPA until they’re blue in the face. But the thing to remember here is this: regardless of the precise risks involved, adding BPA to cash register receipts is simply unnecessary! Remember, it was only found in 11 of 13 receipts tested in one study; EWG’s study found BPA in only 40 percent of receipts they tested. Locally, PCC Natural Markets has announced that they’re going BPA-free for their receipts (see the last item in their October monthly newsletter), and I’m sure that others are doing the same.
Which makes me wonder—shouldn’t every retail chain go BPA-free?
[Hat tip to former Sightline staffer John Abbotts for the idea. Grocery receipt image courtesy of Flickr user compactmanifold, distributed under a Creative Commons license. Also see this helpful BPA groundup in Grist.]
I wrote about BPA in cash register receipts last year in my “sustainababy” blog series. I’m glad to see a more conclusive study and I hope something comes of it. This kind of thing really freaks me out—for one because my 11 month old puts everything in her mouth these days and loves to eat paper (she’s literally devouring books when my head is turned!). But also because it’s an illustration of how toxics are just everywhere—and they’re so hard to avoid.
Sounds like cashiers who work with BPA-laden receipts might want to consider using disposable gloves (or tweezers)…
Last week I e-mailed the head of United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 555 about this, referring the Local to Environmental Working Group and Science News magazine for information about thermal paper/ bisphenol.