Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical compound that has been used in the production of plastics for over 50 years. During most of that time, the addition of BPA to commercial products, including laptops, contact lenses, and food storage containers, went largely unnoticed. This all changed when controversy about its possible toxicity made national headlines in 2008. Some studies in humans and animals have suggested BPA is correlated with health problems, such as a higher risk of certain cancers, but the Food and Drug Administration of the United States does not consider BPA to be a harmful substance. This controversy spawned an international push towards manufacturing with BPA-free plastics.
Despite this shift on store shelves, BPA can still be detected in the urine of over 90 percent of Americans. Scientists at the University of Missouri suggest that the source may be the BPA found on cash register receipts (to help develop the printed text), as well as the context in which receipts are typically handled. Just think about the bottle of hand sanitizer that now sits next to nearly every register. Their study reported that people who used hand sanitizer prior to touching a receipt and then ate finger food had significantly higher levels of BPA in their blood and urine than those who did not. These levels were as high as those in earlier studies linking BPA to adverse health effects. Hand sanitizers contain ingredients that dissolve BPA, and also increase the skin’s ability to absorb the chemical. Although further studies and larger sample sizes will be necessary to conclude whether BPA is a true hazard, this finding suggests that certain populations, such as cashiers, may be exposed to higher than average amounts of BPA on a regular basis – and keeping hands clean may not be helping.
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to Nicholas Warren (Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine) at Dartmouth Medical School and Ankita Shastri (Chemistry and Chemical Biology) at Harvard University for their expertise and detailed insights on the topic.
Managing Editor: Laura L. Smith
Worrisome Chemical May Lurk in Cash Register Receipts (CBS News)
Don’t Touch That Cash Register Receipt – It’s Toxic (Yahoo News)
What’s BPA, and Do I Really Need a New Water Bottle? (How Stuff Works)