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Study Finds BPA in Store Receipts; Health Effects as Yet Unclear

80beatsBy Joseph CalamiaJuly 28, 2010 10:46 PM


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When you hear mention of BPA, or bisphenol-A, plastic bottles and food containers likely come to mind. Now, a report presented by activists at the Environmental Working Group says the chemical is also in some paper store receipts. In the study, which has not been peer reviewed, the environmental group looked for BPA in 36 sales receipts. They found that about forty percent used thermal paper (which has a chemical coating that changes colors when heated) that contained 0.8 to nearly 3 percent pure BPA by weight, 250 to 1,000 times greater than the amount of BPA typically found in a can of food or a can of baby formula. Other research, their report says, shows that BPA can transfer from receipts to a person's skin, but how much BPA transfers or if it penetrates into the bloodstream remains uncertain. A chemical-industry trade group says the amount transferred is low:

"Available data suggests that BPA is not readily absorbed through the skin," a spokeswoman from [The American Chemistry Council] said. "Biomonitoring data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that exposure to BPA from all sources, which would include typical exposure from receipts, is extremely low."[Washington Post]

Still, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a program to determine alternatives to using the chemical in thermal paper, the group's report says. And those alternatives shouldn't be hard to find, says the environmental group.

"Since 60 percent of the receipts EWG tested did not contain BPA, we know there is an easy fix for retailers who still use paper containing the chemical," Environmental Working Group senior scientist Dr. Anila Jacob told AOL News.[Time]

BPA, an estrogen-mimicking chemical used in manufacturing plastics, causes concern in part because it led to reproductive problems in animal studies. Research has shown that most people carry traces of the chemical: A study conducted from 2003 to 2004 by researchers at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found (pdf) it in urine samples of 93 percent of 2,517 Americans tested. Still, BPA's links to human health problems and the chemical's leading source remain hard to confirm.

In animals, fetal exposures to BPA can be especially risky, sometimes fostering brain, behavioral or reproductive problems. Canada and some states are moving to ban polycarbonate plastic in baby bottles for that reason. And heart data suggest that even adult exposures to BPA might cause harm... A vexing question has been where people are acquiring the BPA that taints nearly everyone’s body. Last year, green chemist John Warner argued that his data suggested store receipts could be a — if not theleading source. [Science News]

Charts including the locations, retailers, and amounts of BPA represented in the study are available here. Related content: 80beats: BPA-Heart Disease Link Confirmed, But Levels in People Have Declined 80beats: BPA Won’t Leave Public-Health Conversation—or Your Body 80beats: Plastic Is More Biodegradable Than We Thought. (That’s Bad.) 80beats: FDA Declares Chemical in Baby Bottles Safe, But Doubts Remain DISCOVER: The Dirty Truth About Plastic

Image: flickr /Dan4th

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