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KBIA’s Health & Wealth Desk covers the economy and health of rural and underserved communities in Missouri and beyond. The team produces a weekly radio segment, as well as in-depth features and regular blog posts. The reporting desk is funded by a grant from the University of Missouri, and the Missouri Foundation for Health.Contact the Health & Wealth desk.

'Would you like a receipt?' High levels of BPA found on receipt paper

Brad Montgomery

Credit Brad Montgomery / Flickr

It’s a well known fact that fast food contributes to poor overall health. But what about the receipt that comes with those yummy French fries?

I sat down with MU researcher Dr. Fredrick vom Saal, whose recently published work shows how fast food receipts expose us to a dangerous endocrine disrupting chemical called BPA.

This interview has been condensed and edited for content and clarity. 

What is BPA and what are some of the health risks that are associated with it?

“BPA is made to be used as the service lining of the a receipt, or at an ATM or airline tickets. It's called thermal paper and in order to have print to appear on that paper, you need a developer and BPA is used as the developer in very, very high quantities on the service of the paper. For BPA related to diseases in people, we have obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks, impaired liver and kidney function, impaired immune function, and consequences such as asthma and allergy, the reproductive system in women is damaged, And damage to the chromosomes in a woman's eggs that she's ovulating. So from a neural perspective, you have increased aggressiveness, hyperactivity and symptoms that look very similar to ADHD based on a mother's levels of BPA during the time she's pregnant. And for males, BPA as an estrogenic chemical reduces, libido in men, reduces sperm quality, the number of sperm are reduced, and it also interferes with thyroid hormone and male sex hormones.”

Your study found that when the subjects used hand sanitizers, or soaps and lotions, products like that, they absorbed more of the BPA. Why is that?

“There are a group of chemicals called skin penetration enhancing chemicals. They break down the skin barrier that is pretty effective at protecting you against molecules like BPA moving through your skin into your body. And the consequences of that is you're getting up in the morning, putting a skin moisturizer on, you think you're cleaning your hands by using hand sanitizer. And what you're doing is opening up your skin barrier and the consequence was that using this hand sanitizer: people pulled about 100 times more BPA off the surface of the paper and then absorbed it relative to whether their hands were dry.”

The other part of this study is that when you're holding a receipt than that BPA is just sitting in a film on your hands and then if you touch food, you're the ingesting it as well as absorbing it.

“The fast food restaurants often hand people receipts and then they are eating greasy foods which will also facilitate transport of chemicals like BPA which dissolves in grease right through the skin. So that along with the skin barrier breakdown by the hand sanitizer is going to be a huge problem. there have been a number of papers that cashiers, as you would expect, in fact relative to anyone else in the population, have the highest levels of BPA in their bodies. I mean this is a big suit waiting to happen because the occupational hazard associated with being a cashier and handling these receipts is really just unacceptable.”

How can consumers apply this new knowledge?

“Well one of the things that I think there really needs to be pressure on the stores that are using thermal paper, which it's just about everybody, to transfer to a safe technology where you're not using a paper coated with an endocrine-disrupting chemical associated with a horrific array of diseases. So i simply don't touch thermal paper and one of the things that you can do is that if you have a camera a smartphone or android or something, you can take a picture of it, you can have it sent to you. If you don't absolutely need the receipt, tell the cashier to throw it away.”

Hope Kirwan left KBIA in September 2015.
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