The paper “thermal” receipt you receive when you purchase something in a store or fast food restaurant or make a transaction at your ATM seems so harmless. But as it turns out, that little piece of paper is often embedded with nasty chemicals.
These chemicals, which include the bisphenol compounds BPA and BPS, present a particular problem because they can quickly and efficiently get absorbed into the bloodstream through skin.
Known endocrine disruptors, BPA and BPS have been linked to premature puberty and developmental neurotoxicity, as scientists from the Environmental Defense Fund reported here. The Food and Drug Administration has banned the use of BPA in sippy cups and baby bottles, but the chemical is still allowed in thermal receipts.
Though the health threat these thermal receipts pose has been known for years, they’re still widely used. In fact, a new study by the Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, shows that BPA and BPS were found in 93 percent of 207 register receipts tested. The receipts came from a variety of major retailers: banks, movie theaters, parking garages and gas stations, and from businesses ranging from 7-11 and Aldi to Costco and Coldstone Creamery.
The problem is not only serious for customers who receive the receipts. Cashiers and other employees who handle the receipts are also at great risk, given how many times a day, day after day, they handle receipts. Overall, researchers have found that more than 88% of humans’ BPS exposure comes from handling receipts. There is no scientific consensus on an accepted tolerable level of exposure to either of these chemicals. The European Union classifies BPA as toxic to reproductive organs and requires the chemical to be labeled as such, notes the Ecology Center. The European Commission has banned BPA in thermal paper beginning in 2010.
Here’s how to avoid contamination:
- Urge store managers to switch over to safer, healthier register receipts. Send them a link to the report and urge them to switch to electronic receipts, receipts that have no coating, or receipts that contain a safer alternative. That’s what Best Buy and Trader Joe’s have committed to
- Ask cashiers if they’re aware that some receipts contain hazardous chemicals. Urge them to discuss the issue with other employees and together discuss the alternatives with management.
- If you are a cashier, wear disposable gloves or protective food grade silicone fingertips on your index fingers and thumbs when tearing receipts, changing receipt rolls, or cleaning machines. Reduce your contact with the coated side of receipts by folding the receipt in on itself before handing it to a customer. Ask customers if they need a receipt or will accept an e-receipt.
- Don’t take a receipt unless you really need one. I rarely accept receipts from grocery stores, since I almost never return food. Stores where I have a membership or belong to a loyalty program, like my food co-op and the local Ace Hardware, can pull up all my transactions by my member or loyalty number, so I never need a receipt from them.
- Ask for gift receipts in an envelope.
- If you must have a receipt, ask the store clerk to drop the receipt in your bag rather than hand it to you. Or, keep a separate pouch or envelope in your backpack or purse that you can drop receipts into so they’re not left loose.
- Put receipts into the trash rather than the recycling to reduce contaminating other paper products.
- Wash your hands immediately after handling receipts.
- Never hand a receipt to a child!