Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Safeway receipts may contain potentially dangerous amounts of BPA, but look out also for CVS, Whole Foods, McDonalds, etc.
by Larry Geller
Test results just released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) have confirmed alarming levels of BPA on ordinary cash register receipts. Simply taking a receipts from the cashier deposits BPA on the skin. A Swiss study found that it penetrates the skin to such a depth that it cannot be washed off.
Cashiers who handle cash register receipts all day must be constantly exposed to the chemical.
Several European countries, Canada and three US states have banned the use of BPA (bisphenol A) in baby bottles. As the chemical leaches out of bottles or food containers for young children it exposes them to risks of inhibited brain development or other serious developmental or health concerns. BPA is present in only nanogram quantities in baby bottles yet is considered a danger, and bottle manufacturers are phasing it out. Other risks associated with BPA are reported to be breast cancer, obesity and diabetes. See also: Prenatal exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals linked to breast cancer.
The biggest danger, however, appears to come not from plastic containers but from cash register receipts. BPA is applied as a powdery layer that coats the receipts along with ink. When heat or electricity is applied, the ink becomes visible.
The total amounts of BPA on receipts tested [by EWG] were 250 to 1000 times greater than other, more widely known, sources of BPA exposure, including canned foods, baby bottles and infant formula. Wipe tests conducted by the lab found that the chemical could easily transfer to the skin of the person handling the receipt.
Among those surveyed, receipts from Safeway supermarkets contained the highest concentration of BPA. The receipt, taken from a store in DC, contained 41 milligrams of the chemical. If the equivalent amount were ingested by a 155-pound adult, it would exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe exposure limit by 12 times.
The receipt for a McDonald's Happy Meal™ purchased in Clinton, Conn. had an estimated 13 milligrams of BPA, which equals the amount of BPA in 126 cans of Chef Boyardee Overstuffed Beef Ravioli in Hearty Tomato & Meat Sauce, one of the products with the highest concentrations of BPA in EWG's 2007 tests of canned foods.
Other store receipts with high levels of BPA include CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, WalMart and the US Postal Service. Receipts from Target, Starbucks, and Bank of America ATM’s were BPA-free or contained only trace amounts. [Emax Health, EWG Lab Tests Confirm BPA on Customer Receipts, 7/27/2010]
In Hawaii, Longs Drugs is owned and run by CVS.
The article also notes that BPA can be transferred from the hands to the mouth after handling a store receipt.
The EWG test results are here. It also include tips for minimizing exposure. Most, of course, involve not taking receipts at all (such as at gas pumps). They also advise against the use of alcohol hand disinfectants which can increase absorption of BPA.
The report has tables summarizing test results, but highlighted its findings at Safeway:
Safeway supermarket receipts had the highest levels by several measures. Safeway receipts had 3 of the top 6 highest overall BPA levels. A store in the District of Columbia had the greatest total estimated mass of BPA (41 milligrams). A Berkeley, CA Safeway had the highest concentration of BPA relative to the paper mass (2.8 percent of the receipt weight). Safeway was one of two retailers that had detectable BPA in all three store locations sampled.
Although the EWG study is the most definitive to-date, there have been other alarms raised. See, for example, Concerned about BPA: Check your receipts (Science News, 10/7/2009). That article warned about BPA transferring from cash register receipts to the hands and then to foods, or entering the blood through skin absorption.
The EWG study outlines some of the health risks and then identifies cashiers, some of whom may be pregnant while at work, as particularly at risk:
Frequent exposures to relatively large amounts of BPA in receipts are an obvious concern to every shopper, but even more so to the legions of people who staff cash registers and bag groceries at tens of thousands of retailers across the country. These workers handle BPA-loaded receipts hundreds of times a day, with as yet unknown consequences for their health (Biedermann et al 2010). According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2009, the two largest U.S. occupations were “retail salespersons” and “cashiers,” with more than 7 million Americans in those jobs.
Retail workers carry an average of 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than other adults, It is unclear how much BPA-coated receipts contribute to people's total exposure to the ubiquitous plastics chemical. What is certain, however, is that since many retail outlets already use BPA-free paper for their receipts, this is one source of contamination that could easily be eliminated completely.
The study also outlined its view of the health risks:
In animal tests, scientists have produced evidence that BPA can induce abnormal reproductive system development, diminished intellectual capacity and behavioral abnormalities and can set the stage for other serious conditions, such as reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, resistance to chemotherapy, asthma and cardiovascular system disorders. It has caused epigenetic changes, meaning alterations in the way genes switch off and on and genetic changes that can be passed on to the next generations.
It would seem that Safeway cashiers, in particular, might want to take this up with their employers, who could easily provide BPA-free cash register paper.