A new study was released today giving new meaning to the phrase “toxic assets.” “On The Money: BPA on Dollar Bills and Receipts” researched by the nonprofit groups Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Washington Toxics Coalition, set out to investigate the extent to which thermal receipt paper containing bisphenol A (BPA) has permeated the market, and whether this hormone-disrupting chemical is escaping onto the money that lies close to these receipts in people’s wallets.
Researchers found that half of the thermal paper receipts tested had large quantities of unbound BPA; 95% of the dollar bills tested positive for lower amounts. Unlike BPA in baby bottles and other products, BPA on thermal paper isn’t chemically bound in any way: it’s a powdery film on the surface of receipts. Data from this report indicate that this highly toxic chemical does, in fact, not stay on the paper, but rather easily transfers to our skin and likely to other items that it rubs against.
“Our findings demonstrate that BPA cannot be avoided, even by the most conscious consumer,” said Erika Schreder, Staff Scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the report. “This unregulated use of large amounts of BPA is having unintended consequences, including exposure to people when we touch receipts.”
Present in 93% of all Americans, scientists studying BPA have hypothesized the major route of human exposure is through food, as BPA is used as a liner in nearly all canned food and beverages. This study indicates that skin absorption from thermal paper receipts with unbound BPA may lead to exposure at levels equivalent to exposure from food sources.
Produced in quantities of about six billion pounds each year worldwide, BPA is one of the most widely used chemicals of all time. During the past decade, an explosion of research has explored the connections between BPA exposure—particularly before birth and in early childhood—and the health problems that are increasingly afflicting U.S. residents. In particular exposure to BPA before birth has been found in laboratory studies to predispose animals to cancer; alter brain development; and lead to early puberty in female animals. Male animals exposed in the womb produce less testosterone, have larger prostate glands, and make fewer sperm than unexposed animals. Studies have also shown a correlation between BPA and obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Highlights of Findings from the “On the Money” Report:
- About half of thermal paper receipts are made with large quantities of unbound BPA. Receipts made with thermal paper were collected from 22 retailers in 10 states and Washington, D.C. Laboratory tests found BPA in very large quantities—up to 2.2% of the total weight—in 11 of the 22 receipts. Retailers with BPA-containing receipts included: Safeway, Shaw’s, Meijer, Cub Foods, Sunoco, Kroger, Giant Eagle, H-E-B, Randalls, Fred Meyer, and the Rayburn Café in the U.S. House of Representatives. BPA-free receipts were found at Trader Joe’s, Hannaford, Home Depot, Albertson’s, Ace Hardware, Wal-Mart, Sears, Costco, and the Hart American Grill serving the U.S. Senate.
- BPA transfers easily from thermal paper receipts to human skin. In tests mimicking typical handling of receipts, BPA transferred from receipts to fingers. Just ten seconds of holding a receipt transferred up to 2.5 micrograms. Researchers transferred much higher amounts, about 15 times as much, by rubbing receipts.
- Unregulated use of BPA has contaminated our money supply. Since BPA in thermal paper receipts is present in a powdery film, we suspected it could easily travel from those receipts to other objects. BPA was found on 21 of the 22 dollar bills tested. Although the levels of BPA detected on money are much lower than those on receipt paper, the near-ubiquitous presence of BPA on dollar bills indicates that BPA is escaping from products to contaminate other materials in unexpected ways.
“BPA on receipts, dollar bills, and in many other products, is a direct result of the absurdly lax controls on chemicals in the United States,” said Andy Igrejas, Director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. “The 112th Congress should make reform of the failed 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act a top legislative priority to protect American families for generations to come.”
Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families is calling on Congress to include a new federal chemical policy that contains the following provisions:
Act fast to eliminate the worst chemicals. Chemicals that can cause cancer, disrupt hormones, cause reproductive harm and infertility, or cause learning disabilities have no place in the products we bring into our homes.
Chemical manufacturers must provide robust health and safety information. EPA should have the authority to require companies to provide thorough health and safety information for their chemicals. Such information would have revealed, for example, that BPA is absorbed through skin.
Consider impacts from multiple exposures and multiple chemicals. Traditional risk assessment that evaluates risk from single sources of chemical exposure just doesn’t work in a world where people are exposed to BPA from food cans, water bottles, receipts, and even money.
Reward innovation that leads to new, safer chemicals. New law should expedite the approval of new chemicals that are inherently low-hazard and/or would serve as safer alternatives for problematic uses of existing chemicals such as BPA.
For Press Questions:
Ivy Sager-Rosenthal, Washington Toxics Coalition 206-854-7623