Originally published in The Environmental Magazine
Since the chemical revolution, history has become littered with stories about seemingly innocuous products that turned out to be dangerous. An example of one such product, which until recently has flown under the radar, is receipts. These little slips of paper are often coated with BPA (bisphenol A) and BPS (bisphenol S).
Both chemicals are proven endocrine disruptors, and have unfortunately been used in the creation of many plastics and resins since the 1960s. Though many BPA free products are now available, we are still exposed to these chemicals every time we touch most receipts.
However, the amount of danger we are putting ourselves in by touching receipts is not perfectly clear.
The fact that BPA and BPS are harmful is indisputable. Numerous studies have clearly shown that both chemicals mimic estrogen and can have adverse effects on brain development and reproductive health. It is important to note that investigative studies were initially conducted only on BPA. The widespread adoption of BPS came after these early studies proved that BPA was harmful. Scientists hypothesized that BPS might be less likely to find its way into the human body, but this hypothesis was inaccurate.
BPS has been detected in the urine of nearly 81% of Americans. Though less research has been conducted on BPS, scientists have observed adverse effects in lab animals following exposure to this newer chemical. For example, neuronal growth in zebrafish increased by 240% after the introduction of BPS into their environment. Worryingly, this neuronal growth far surpassed that which researchers observed after exposing the same species of fish to BPA (BPA exposure triggered a 170% increase in neuronal growth). In a study on rats, exposure to BPA and BPS led to the development of heart arrhythmias. The amount of the chemicals used in this study mirrored the amount to which humans are often exposed.
Following the publication of the initial studies on BPA, regulatory agencies set daily exposure limits for the chemical (though they have not yet done so for BPS). The European Food Safety Authority’s limit is 4,000 nanograms per kilogram of body weight per day; the FDA’s is 50,000. This massive disparity seems to suggest that corporate interest might have played a role in the FDA’s decision, seeing as the two limits were both presumably based upon the similar data, and no profits are to be had by establishing a low limit. Assuming that the EFSA’s limit is more reflective of a safe level, the recent research indicating that receipt-handling workers can absorb up to 5,000ng/kg/bw/per day, is quite alarming.
Thankfully, many solutions to this problem exist, and are currently being implemented. An increasing number of companies email receipts instead of printing hard, bisphenol-containing copies. Other have chosen to print their receipts on paper that does not contain these chemicals. In stores where conventional receipts are still used, cashiers can wear gloves to protect themselves. If you need to touch a receipt, you can minimize your chances of exposure by folding it and only touching the side without any printed information. Finally, if you would like to take further action on this issue, consider asking local store owners to make the switch from conventional receipts to those printed on safe paper, and or to set up receipt emailing systems.