I don’t know about you, but I am an antsy person when it comes down to my finances. I keep every receipt, I keep track of how much my things cost—and I use this to calculate my cost of living.
I think of receipts as necessary slips of paper, and I know I’m not alone—in America, we use over 250 million gallons of oil, 10 million trees, and 1 billion gallons of water each year to supply ourselves with receipts.
Okay, maybe not everyone is as crazy about receipts as I am. But receipts are ubiquitous in shopping—which is why the recent study published in PLOS One is so terrifying.
Did you know that the chemical BPA is in our receipts?
BPA is a synthetic estrogen that is a structural component in polycarbonate beverage bottles, food packaging, and receipt paper. The chemical is easily transmitted from these products to you—and that’s no good for your body.
BPA is also an EDC—an endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC). To put it very simply, your endocrine system helps your body communicate messages to itself through hormones and receptors. EDCs disrupt these messages by occupying receptors and blocking information—which can have serious health consequences. Exposure to BPA has been associated with recurrent miscarriage, cancer, diabetes, Attention Deficit Disorder, decreased IQ, low sperm count, and aggression in children.
BPA has been used in food packaging since the 1960s. When BPA began to be called into question for its potential hazardous effects, the FDA published a study in support of the safety of BPA.
“As is the case when foods are in direct contact with any packaging material, small, measurable amounts of the packaging materials may migrate into food and can be consumed with it. As part of its premarket review of food packaging materials, FDA’s food contact regulations and food contact notification program assesses the likely migration from the packaging material to assure that any migration to food occurs at safe levels.”
However, this study has been questioned by other researchers when they were informed that the lab was contaminated—all of the animals, including the control group, had been exposed to BPA. The FDA hid this crucial detail by giving it only a small mention at the end of the paper. In the meantime, there have been over a thousand studies that found that trace amounts of BPA can lead to an array of different health problems.
Although the FDA supported the safety of BPA in water bottles and food packaging, they did ban BPA-Based materials from baby bottles, sippy cups, and infant formula packaging.
What’s more terrifying is a recent study about the potential health risk of BPA in thermal receipt paper: Holding Thermal Receipt Paper and Eating Food after Using Hand Sanitizer Results in High Serum Bioactive and Urine Total Levels of Bisphenol A (BPA)
Obviously, this a problem. While as a consumer you can avoid buying certain types of food and beverages that contain BPA in their packaging, there is sometimes no way you can avoid a receipt—what if you need to keep a receipt for your records? What if you need to be reimbursed? What if you just like knowing how much your purchase cost afterwards?
Despite well-justified concerns, industry lobbyists have kept the issue from getting the attention it deserves. There are millions of dollars invested in BPA, and to switch to an alternative would cost groups, like the American Chemistry Council, a lot of money. Even the National Resources Defense Council sued the FDA for failing to ban BPA from food packaging.
That’s not to say that companies aren’t fighting back. Some are: when concerns arose about BPA in food packaging, Eden Foods started lining its cans with a plant-based oleoresin over ten years ago. Appleton Paper, the country’s largest manufacturer of thermal paper receipts, went BPA-free in 2006.
While the science can continue to be reexamined and debated for decades, much like the science behind climate change, the matter is in the hands of our politicians now.
Until this issue is properly handled by our government, there are ways to avoid exposure to BPA in a thermal paper receipt. If you don’t need the receipt, leave it—and don’t touch one, especially if you’ve used hand sanitizer recently. If you have to handle receipts, take care to wash your hands afterwards. And if you’d rather keep BPA out of your garden, don’t ever compost a receipt.
But just refusing a receipt isn’t enough to fix the problem, for those who need it most. We’ve got to take action against BPA in receipts—unless something changes drastically, cashiers in stores will still be exposed to BPA at high levels. It’s unfair and unreasonable—and shouldn’t have to be the case.
Thalia Patrinos is known as Tippy to her friends, because she is light on her feet (and it’s easier to pronounce). She is a writer by day, fire dancer by night. Tippy floats between NYC, DC, and Baltimore—constantly trying to find ways to make her impact on the world small and sweet. Check out her performance troupe, or examine her other artistic creations via her blog or her Tumblr.