BPA Exposure Linked to Handling Cash Register Receipts: Study

Handling supermarket, gas station or ATM machine receipts may increase an individuals exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that has been linked to a number of potentially serious health risks. 

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association on February 26, individuals who handled thermal receipts were found to have a significantly increased level of Bisphenol A (BPA) detected in their urine.

BPA is a compound commonly used to manufacture epoxy resin and consumer plastic products, making the plastic harder and shatter proof. It is often found in plastic water bottles, the lining of canned food, toys and other consumer products. Typically, consumers are exposed to BPA by ingesting food products which have come into contact with the compound. However, the chemical is also used to coat receipt paper in common consumer settings.

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Dr. Shelley Ehrlich of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and her team of researchers focused on the amount of BPA humans receive after handling thermal receipt paper. The study was relatively small, only 24 participants, and measured BPA exposure with urine tests before and after handling the receipts.

Researchers found handling the receipts with their bare hands significantly increased their BPA exposure. More than 80% of participants had BPA in their urine before handling the receipts. After handling the BPA-treated receipts all the participants had levels of BPA in their urine, only a few hours after handling the paper.

“We observed an increase in urinary BPA concentrations after continuously handling receipts for two hours,” said Ehrlich.

BPA-treated receipts are handled by consumers every day, from transactions at the supermarket, bank, gas stations and many other retail settings. The team found using gloves reduced a person’s exposure to BPA which can soak into the body through the hands, not just through ingestion.

BPA Health Risks

Currently, the FDA maintains that little or no evidence exists to show the chemical is harmful to humans. However, many critics have indicated that the risk may be under appreciated. It is unclear what the long term health effects may be, or if the exposure from receipt paper is significant enough to cause severe side effects.

This new research adds to prior findings that suggest BPA is prevalent in humans and may be harmful to their long-term health.

A study published late last year revealed BPA was harmful to humans at much lower exposure levels than scientists originally thought. Researchers found BPA caused consistent reproductive effects at ten to forty times lower than the current low dose threshold. In fact, the ubiquitous chemical offered side effects at levels humans are exposed to every day.

Research has also linked high levels of BPA to reduced reproductive function in adults and problems with proper neurodevelopment in children.

One way to reduce the exposure to the controversial chemical is to take note of what type of plastic you use. Many plastic containers have the recycle codes 3 or 7. This means the products may be made with BPA. Some experts say that by avoiding these products exposure can be reduced.

Photo Courtesy of Derek Bridges via Flickr CC

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