According to new laboratory tests commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), high levels of BPA have been found on 40 percent of receipts sampled from major businesses including outlets of McDonald’s, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, WalMart, Safeway and the U.S. Postal Service. Receipts from Target, Starbucks, Bank of America ATMs and other important enterprises were BPA-free or contained only trace amounts.

Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical building block that is used primarily to make polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins. Polycarbonate plastic is a lightweight, high-performance plastic that possesses a unique balance of toughness, optical clarity, high heat resistance, and excellent electrical resistance. Because of these attributes, polycarbonate is used in a wide variety of common products including digital media (e.g., CDs, DVDs), electrical and electronic equipment, automobiles, sports safety equipment, reusable food and drink containers, and many other products.

bpa-receipts-featured.jpgThe amounts of BPA on the tested receipts were 250 to 1,000 times greater than more commonly discussed sources of BPA such as canned foods, baby bottles, and infant formula.

The Environmental Working Group does not believe these data should be interpreted to suggest that policymakers shift their focus from BPA contamination of food, which is widespread, to receipts. The group asserts, however, this route of exposure is easy to fix since many retailers do not use BPA-laden thermal paper.

The Environmental Working Group collected receipts from different businesses in 7 states and the District of Columbia and had them tested by the University of Missouri Division of Biological Sciences.

The lab conducted wipe tests in which BPA was easily removed, indicating that the chemical could rub off on the hands of the person handling the receipt.

A study published July 11 by scientists with the Official Food Control Authority of the Canton of Zurich in Switzerland found that BPA transfers readily from receipts to skin and can be absorbed into the skin to the point that it cannot be washed off. According to the study, this raises the possibility that the chemical infiltrates the skin’s lower layers to enter the bloodstream directly.

According to an Environmental Working Group analysis of biomonitoring data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), retail workers carry an average of 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than other adults.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2009, 1 in 17 Americans were either retail salespersons or cashiers.

“A typical employee at any large retailer who runs the register could handle hundreds of the contaminated receipts in a single day at work,” said Jane Houlihan, Environmental Working Group Senior Vice-President for Research. “While we do not know exactly what this means for people’s health, it’s just one more path of exposure to this chemical that seems to bombard every single person.”

Appleton Papers Inc. of Appleton, Wisconsin is the nation’s largest thermal paper maker; it removed BPA from its products in 2006.

Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook has written to several of the companies whose receipts tested positive for BPA. He is requesting that they change to BPA-free paper in the interest of their employees’ and customers’ health.