|Synthetic estrogen BPA coats cash register receipts
EWG-commissioned lab tests find BPA-laden receipts from big national retailers
The plastic component bisphenol A (BPA) has been in the headlines nonstop as scientists, health experts and consumers press for a federal ban on food packaging made with this synthetic estrogen, shown to leach readily into infant formula, beverages and canned food. But most Americans are probably unaware that they are regularly exposed to the same endocrine-disrupting chemical in cash register receipts.
Two-fifths of the paper receipts tested by a major laboratory commissioned by Environmental Working Group were on heat-activated paper that was between 0.8 to nearly 3 percent pure BPA by weight. Wipe tests conducted with a damp laboratory paper easily picked up a portion of the receipts' BPA coating, indicating that the chemical would likely stick to the skin of anyone who handled them. The receipts came from major retailers, grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, fast-food restaurants, post offices and automatic teller machines (ATMs).
Major retailers using BPA-containing receipts in at least some outlets included McDonald's, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, Walmart, Safeway and the U.S. Postal Service. Receipts from some major chains, including Target, Starbucks and Bank of America ATMs, issued receipts that were BPA-free or contained only trace amounts.
Scientists have not determined how much of a receipt's BPA coating can transfer to the skin and from there into the body. Possibilities being explored include:
EWG collected 36 receipts and commissioned the University of Missouri Division of Biological Sciences laboratory to investigate their BPA content. This laboratory is considered one of the world's foremost research facilities in its capability to detect environmentally relevant BPA concentrations.
The Missouri scientists found that the total mass of BPA on a receipt is 250 to 1,000 times greater than the amount of BPA typically found in a can of food or a can of baby formula, or that which leaches from a BPA-based plastic baby bottle into its contents. These data should not be interpreted to suggest that policymakers shift their focus from BPA contamination of food, which is widespread, to receipts. BPA exposure from food sources is ubiquitous and should remain the first priority of U.S. policymakers. However, a significant portion of the public may also be exposed to BPA by handling receipts. Since many retailers do not use BPA-laden thermal paper, this particular route of exposure is easy to correct.
Biomonitoring surveys by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found BPA in the bodies of 93 percent of Americans over age 6. EWG analysis of CDC data has found that people who reported working in retail industries had 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than the average U.S. adult, and 34 percent more BPA than other workers. (CDC 2004). As of May 2009, 1 in 17 working Americans -- 7 million people -- were employed as retail salespersons and cashiers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
EWG's biomonitoring study of minority newborns, published last December, found BPA in 9 of 10 samples, marking the first detections of the chemical in the cord blood of U.S. infants. EWG has published a Safe Baby Bottle and Formula Guide to help parents of infants avoid BPA and other harmful substances during this critical window of development.
In animal tests, scientists have produced evidence that BPA can induce abnormal reproductive system development, diminished intellectual capacity and behavioral abnormalities and can set the stage for other serious conditions, such as reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, resistance to chemotherapy, asthma and cardiovascular system disorders. It has caused epigenetic changes, meaning alterations in the way genes switch off and on and genetic changes that can be passed on to the next generations.
Frequent exposures to relatively large amounts of BPA in receipts are an obvious concern to every shopper, but even more so to the legions of people who staff cash registers and bag groceries at tens of thousands of retailers across the country. These workers handle BPA-loaded receipts hundreds of times a day, with as yet unknown consequences for their health (Biedermann et al 2010). According to the U.S. Department of Laborâ€™s Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of May 2009, the two largest U.S. occupations were â€śretail salespersonsâ€ť and â€ścashiers,â€ť with more than 7 million Americans in those jobs.
Retail workers carry an average of 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than other adults, It is unclear how much BPA-coated receipts contribute to people's total exposure to the ubiquitous plastics chemical. What is certain, however, is that since many retail outlets already use BPA-free paper for their receipts, this is one source of contamination that could easily be eliminated completely.
Thermal paper is widely used for point-of-sale receipts, prescription labels, airline tickets and lottery tickets. Thermal printers use paper that is coated with a dye and developer (BPA or an alternative chemical). Heat from the thermal printing head triggers a reaction between the dye and developer, allowing the black print to appear.
In an effort to quantify how much BPA would transfer to a personâ€™s hand, the laboratory performed wipe tests on four BPA-laden receipts. In all four cases, BPA transferred from the receipts to the wipes. An average of 2.4 percent of the receipts' total BPA content wiped off, suggesting that a person who handled receipts would be exposed to some BPA in the thermal paper. There have been no published studies of BPA residues inside pockets, purses and wallets, on wet produce in grocery bags or on the hands of people after they crumpled and discarded a receipt.
Since 60 percent of the receipts EWG collected did not have significant levels of BPA, it is apparent that many retailers are using alternatives. The leading U.S. thermal paper maker, Wisconsin-based Appleton Papers Inc., no longer incorporates BPA in any of its thermal papers (Raloff 2009). Reacting to concerns about the toxicity of BPA, the Japan Paper Association began to halt the use of BPA in 1998, completing the phase-out by 2003 (AIST 2007). EWG's analysis of three receipts collected in Japan at KFC, McDonald's and Starbucks found only trace amounts of BPA. In addition, 11 of 13 U.S.-based retailers whose receipts EWG tested used non-BPA paper in at least one outlet.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has initiated a program to evaluate the safety and availability of alternatives to BPA in thermal paper (EPA 2010).
EWG urges retailers to use BPA-free paper and to consider paperless options such as emailed electronic receipts. These measures could greatly reduce the volume of BPA disseminated by the retail industry and save paper in the bargain. Retailers should make public the identity of any chemicals used in the alternative they select. Very little information is publicly available on the now-common BPA alternatives for thermal receipts.
Tips to reduce exposures to BPA in receipts
The laboratory detected substantial amounts of BPA on 16 of 36 receipts at an average amount of 1.9 percent by weight, and a range of 0.8 to 2.8 percent (Table 1).
|Table 1. Test Results - BPA in store receipts|
|Establishment where receipt was obtained||Location||Total mass of BPA on receipt (milligrams)||Size of receipt (square centimeters)||Mass of BPA relative to mass of receipt||Mass of BPA relative to surface area of receipt (micrograms of BPA per square centimeter)||Percent of BPA that rubbed off of receipt onto wet wipe|
|National Supermarkets||Safeway||Berkeley, CA||20.7||1,006||2.8%||35.9|
|Whole Foods||Superior, CO||10.8||902||1.8%||25.7||0.71%|
|Gas station||Chevron||Berkeley, CA||0.0084||456||0.002%||0.06||*|
|Banks||Bank of America||Berkeley, CA||ND||805||ND||ND|
|Local supermarket||Sunflower Farmers Market||Boulder, CO||0.145||994||0.017%||0.22|
|U.S. Postal Service||Boulder, CO||23.6||1,600||2.0%||16.4||2.21%|
|U.S. House of Representatives Cafeteria||Washington, DC||5.42||494||1.3%||32.8|
|U.S. Senate Cafeteria||Washington, DC||0.00||540||0.0%||0.00|
|Retailers in Japan|
|Kentucky Fried Chicken||Sendai, Japan||0.0014||570||0.0%||0.01|
|Source: EWG compilation of BPA test results
from the University of Missouri Division of Biological Sciences Laboratory,
for receipts collected by EWG.
* Only trace BPA levels were detected on wipe samples of receipts not coated with BPA.
|Safeway supermarket receipts had the highest levels by several measures.
Safeway receipts had 3 of the top 6 highest overall BPA levels. A store
in the District of Columbia had the greatest total estimated mass of BPA
(41 milligrams). A Berkeley, CA Safeway had the highest concentration of
BPA relative to the paper mass (2.8 percent of the receipt weight). Safeway
was one of two retailers that had detectable BPA in all three store locations
The receipt for a McDonald's Happy Mealâ„¢ purchased in Clinton, Conn. on April 21, 2010 had an estimated 13 milligrams of BPA. That equals the amount of BPA in 126 cans of Chef Boyardee Overstuffed Beef Ravioli in Hearty Tomato & Meat Sauce, one of the products with the highest concentrations of BPA in EWG's 2007 tests of canned foods (EWG 2007).
Source: BPA test results from the University of Missouri Division of Biological Sciences Laboratory, for receipts collected by EWG.
* BPA at trace level or not detected.
|EWG also collected receipts from stores and bank ATMs in three or four
cities for each of the ten national retail and service chains sampled.
Analysis of the laboratory tests found that of the 10 stores and bank ATMs:
The laboratory performed four wipe samples on four BPA-laden receipts - 0.7-to-3.8 percent of the BPA detected on the receipt easily wiped off onto a lightly moistened, BPA-free laboratory paper, with an average of 2.4 percent wiping off.
EWG also collected receipts from three retailers in Japan, at KFC, Starbucks and McDonald's outlets in the city of Sendai. None contained BPA above trace levels. In our U.S. samples, KFC and McDonald's issued BPA-containing receipts in at least one location.
Sources of Americans' exposures to BPA. BPA exposure is ubiquitous in the U.S. population. The CDC's National Biomonitoring Program found the chemical in the urine of 93 percent of Americans age six and older (Calafat 2008).
Researchers have considered BPA contamination of canned foods and beverages to be the primary sources of exposure in most populations, especially for infants and children.
In 2007, Environmental Working Group published a ground-breaking study documenting that BPA had leached from epoxy can linings into more than half the canned foods, beverages and canned liquid infant formula randomly purchased at supermarkets around the country. In the absence of any U.S. regulation on BPA contamination of food, EWG has published an online guide to baby-safe bottles and formula.
However, a recent study suggests that other sources may also be important (Stahlhut 2009). These researchers measured urinary levels of BPA in 1,469 adults after variable periods of fasting. They expected BPA levels in urine to fall rapidly in the absence of new food exposures, since the chemical is excreted very quickly from the body. Instead, BPA levels dropped only slowly, leading them to theorize that BPA from sources other than food may be significant, or, alternatively, that BPA may be stored in human fat and released slowly and constantly into the body.
EWG assessed CDC biomonitoring data from Americans tested between 2003 and 2004 to learn if retail workers carry higher amounts of BPA in their bodies than other adults. CDC provided employment information for 916 of 1,862 adults tested. EWG analysis found that the 195 people who reported working in retail industries had 28 percent more BPA in their bodies than the average U.S. adult, and 34 percent more BPA than other workers. EWG also found that four of the five occupations with the highest BPA measurements may come in contact with receipts, including those in retail department stores, communications, retail food stores, and eating and drinking establishments (Table 2).
|Population tested||Number of people tested||Geometric mean concentration of BPA (ug/L)|
|Male (age 18 and above)||801||2.7|
|Female (age 18 and above)||864||2.3|
|All adults (age 18 and above)||1,665||2.5|
|Source. EWG analysis of CDC biomonitoring
data from samples collected from 2003-2004 (CDC 2004).
* Retail workers include people designated in CDC employment groups 23-28 (CDC 2004).
|EWG recommends that retailers switch to non-BPA receipt technologies
immediately to help reduce their employees' BPA exposures.
Biedermann S, Tschudin P, Grob K. 2010. Transfer of bisphenol A from thermal printer paper to the skin. Anal Bioanal Chem. Published online: July 11, 2010.
Calafat AM, Ye X, Wong LY, Reidy JA, Needham LL. 2008. Exposure of the U.S. population to bisphenol A and 4-tertiary-octylphenol: 2003-2004. Environmental Health Perspectives 116(1): 39-44.
CDC 2004. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data 2003-2004. US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control andPrevention: National Centre for Health Statistics (NCHS). Hyattsville, MD, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/nhanes2003-2004/nhanes03_04.htm
EWG. 2007. Bisphenol A: Toxic plastics chemical in canned foods. Environmental Working Group, March 2007. http://ewg.org/reports/bisphenola
EWG. 2009. Body Burden: the Pollution in Minority Newborns. Environmental Working Group, March 2007. http://ewg.org/minoritycordblood/BPA-cordbloodpollution
EPA. 2010. BPA Alternatives in Thermal Paper Partnership. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Design for the Environment. Washington DC. http://www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/bpa/index.htm
Kaddar N, HarthÃ© C, DÃ©chaud H, Mappus E, Pugeat M. 2008. Cuteanous Penetration of Bisphenol A in Pig Skin. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A. 71(8):471-73.
LaKind JS, Naiman DQ. 2010. Daily intake of bisphenol A and potential sources of exposure: 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology:1-8
Raloff J. 2009. Concern about BPA: Check your receipts. Science News.
October 7, 2009. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/48084/title/Science_+_the_Public__
Stahlhut RW, Welshons WV, Swan SH. 2009. Bisphenol A data in NHANES
suggest longer that expected half-life, substantial nonfood exposure, or
both. Environmental Health Perspectives 117(5): 784-89.
APPENDIX - LABORATORY METHODOLOGY AND QUALITY ASSURANCE / QUALITY CONTROL PROCEDURES
APPENDIX - LABORATORY METHODOLOGY AND QUALITY ASSURANCE / QUALITY CONTROL PROCEDURES
EWG sent receipts to a laboratory at University of Missouri-Columbia, Division of Biological Sciences in Columbia, Mo. The laboratory weighed, measured and photographed the receipts, analyzed for BPA and screened for bisphenol B, bisphenol S and bisphenol F, using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with CoulArray detection. The standard curve in our assay ranges from 0.05 -4 nanograms per HPLC run. Four receipts that had values below and above the range of the standard curve are considered to be outside the limit of quantitation of the assay. These estimated values were different from five samples labeled as "non-detectable (ND)," in which there was no evidence of BPA.
Digestion analysis: Lengths of receipt weighing 200 mg each were cut and placed in a glass tube. No attempt was made to control for the amount of printing on the receipt. The receipts were incubated in methanol (15 ml, to cover the receipt) for 3 hours at room temperature, with occasional agitation. The methanol was then poured into clean glass tubes and diluted for analysis.
Migration analysis : EWG selected 9 of the collected receipts for migration analysis. For these, a piece of lab wipe (KimWipe) was lightly dampened with methanol and wiped in a zigzag fashion across the top (printed) surface of a 5 cm by 5 cm piece of receipt. This wipe was then soaked in methanol for 3 hours at room temperature, and the methanol then decanted and analyzed for BPA.
Quality assurance / Quality control procedures
The laboratory assessed recoveries of BPA from paper by spiking a piece of filter paper approximately 8-by-8 centimeters with BPA and soaking it in methanol, as described for the sales receipts. This method only approximates BPA recovery from receipts since the paper and coating matrices are different.
The laboratory also analyzed samples with added BPA to determine whether the sample extract quenches or augments BPA measurements. Recoveries in positive controls averaged 92 percent. Sample data values presented in this study are not corrected for recovery.
The laboratory did not detect BPB, BPF and BPS in the receipts tested. Unidentified peaks were seen in some receipt samples that did not contain BPA. Some of these appeared to reflect high concentrations.