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In my world, there's always a shoe box of receipts floating around somewhere waiting for annual financial reckoning. It's a simple thing. Just a modest pile of paper, some cherished retail memories, and, it seems, a whole lot of BPA.
Nobody is more surprised than me to learn that many of the little receipts that waiters, grocery cashiers, and store clerks have been handing me for years contain boatloads of bisphenol-a. BPA in canned foods and polycarbonate plastics? Sure. Dental sealants and water bottles? That we knew. But credit card slips and shopping receipts? C'mon...really?
Tests on the thermal paper receipts that millions of us handle every day show that a lot of them are coated with BPA, often in amounts that make food and drink exposures look insignificant by comparison. That's according to two studies, one conducted by green chemistry pioneer John Warner and the other by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The former found BPA in 8 out of 10 thermal paper receipts collected in the Boston area. The latter discovered BPA in 40% of 36 receipts collected from fast food outlets, chain and grocery stores, gas stations, and post offices in seven states and the District of Columbia. In each case, the chemical was used as a developer, which when combined with heat and an initially invisible dye created black lettering.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that's just no good because BPA has been linked to all kinds of medical mischief. It's not a chemical we want to invite inside our homes or our bodies. And we don't need it in our receipts either because plenty of thermal paper manufacturers make a BPA-free option that works just fine without it.
So does this mean I'll be doing my taxes in a hazmat suit? Not quite, but I may be using tongs and rubber gloves. And until thermal paper makers get with the program and get the BPA out of their product, I'll definitely be following the advice of the EWG, which suggests:
- Refusing those receipts you can live without.
- Isolate thermal receipts in a small envelope kept in your purse or wallet. (You can check to see if a receipt is thermal by rubbing it with a coin. The resulting friction will discolor thermal paper.)
- Keep all receipts away from your kids.
- Wash your hands after handling a thermal receipt, especially before preparing food and/or eating.
- Keep thermal papers out of the recycling bin in order to prevent BPA contamination.
These steps will help minimize whatever risks BPA-tainted receipts may present (and it should be noted that we don't quite know what those risks are at this point -- only that there may be some). So keep the possible dangers in mind whenever you decide to keep your receipt.