More Than You Paid For: BPA Found in Cash Register Receipts


Image via: Billaday on Flickr.com

We've devoted plenty of time and space to exposing BPA in our water bottles, and to documenting the phase-out of BPA, (or Bisphenol A) but did you know that you come in contact with BPA every day (well, more than likely every day) and you don't even know it? Turns out, there is one more downside to shopping and consuming: you're putting even more BPA out into the environment, reports Science News. Here's how:Every time you purchase an item, and the clerk hands you a receipt, BINGO, you've come in contact with BPA. Plus, you've also exposed the cashier to BPA in the process. Turns out, those seemingly benign paper receipts we receive for everything from clothing to food to gasoline all contain a little bit of BPA. Why BPA?

Why is BPA in Receipts?

Thermal imaging papers, the ones use in most cash registers, and carbonless copy papers (the ones used for most credit card receipts) both use BPA to provide the "magic" behind printing those receipts. According to Science News, when created, the papers are coated with a "powdery layer" of BPA and invisible ink. When pressure and/or heat are applied, the two materials merge together on the paper and you get color, aka your printed receipt.

John C. Warner, a former Polaroid employee who worked with the BPA paper, and now current professor at the University of Massachusetts became concerned that receipts might still contain BPA after learning a few years about about the endocrine disruptive traits of BPA in water bottles and food containers. So, he told his students to save their receipts and they began a little experiment of their own. Receipts were taken into the lab and dissolved, and then exposed to a mass spectrometer to look for remnants of BPA.

Turns out, most but not all of the receipts still contain BPA. Warner now works through his non-profit, The Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, to help companies find ways to manufacture alternatives to common (toxic) products. He is still testing receipts and still finding BPA in them.

So Why is BPA in Receipts Bad?

BPA in water bottles, for example, is referred to as having nanograms of particles leaching out. BPA in cash registers receipts on the other hand typically has 60 to 100 milligrams of free BPA, much more than you would find in your water bottle. To make matters worse, the BPA in receipts is free, meaning that the individual molecules are "loose and ready for the uptake" unlike water bottles or food containers where the particles are bound and have to be heated in order for you to be exposed. Thus far, no specific studies have been done to quantify just how much BPA we may be exposed to or whether it can stay on our fingers long enough for us to touch food and ingest it, or even if it can just permeate our skin.

Alternatives to BPA-filled recipts

So, knowing that we get receipts for just about anything and in fact can get a free meal for not being offered our receipt, how do we avoid them? Warner wants to come up with a device that could swipe over the paper and determine if it carries BPA. Pregnant women and children should be advised not to handle them, certainly not without washing their hands before eating. There are companies, like Appleton, that offer BPA-free paper receipts. Or, we could just choose to not have a receipt at all. That would save paper in the process and save the store clerk from having to handle receipts all day long, thus exponentially increasing their exposure. But, then what do we do when we need to return that item and now don't have a receipt? One alternative is a paperless receipt - some companies, for example like Alletronic, or TransactionTree, now offer to email you a confirmation of your receipt.

More on Bisphenol A
Bisphenol A Makes Girls Mean
Bisphenol A...Again: It Stays in Your Body Longer Than Experts Once Thought
BPA Industry Fights Back With Tobacco Industry Tactics
It's Official: Canada Declares Bisphenol A Toxic

Tags: Bottled Water | Plastics | Shopping | Toxins

Best of TreeHugger