Bisphenol A (BPA) has been found in many household items and other common objects and is known to be an endocrine disruptor linked to infertility, genital abnormalities, cancer and more.  Studies now show that it is all over our cash.  BPA is used to make plastic, manufacturers use about 8 billion pounds of BPA that is moulded, cooked or poured into toys, baby products and other merchandise each year. In these plastic products BPA is chemically bonded but it is simply applied in a powdery film to paper receipts; making it easy to rub off with a touch.

A new report from Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and Washington Toxics Coalition found significant quantities of Bisphenol-A (BPA) in receipts; 95 percent of dollar bills tested were positive for lower amounts of BPA. BPA is a ubiquitous chemical which has been shown to affect health — especially in small children, infants, and pregnant women. While BPA is banned in seven states, it is only banned from sippy cups, baby bottles and other items that children may use.

The report, “On the Money: BPA on Dollar Bills and Receipts” (pdf) describes how researchers collected dollar bills and receipts from a total of 20 states and Washington, D.C. and tested them for BPA. Researchers also tested whether the BPA coating receipts transfers to the skin.

“Money isn’t known for being the cleanest item we use, but we don’t expect an encounter with toxic chemicals when we pay for our morning coffee.”

Highlights from the report:

1. About half of thermal paper receipts are made with large quantities of unbound BPA. Receipts made with thermal paper were collected from 22 retailers in 10 states and Washington, D.C. Retailers with BPA-containing receipts included: Safeway, Shaw’s, Meijer, Cub Foods, Sunoco, Kroger, Giant Eagle, H-E-B, Randalls, Fred Meyer, and the Rayburn Café in the U.S. House of Representatives. BPA-free receipts were found at Trader Joe’s, Hannaford, Home Depot, Albertson’s, Ace Hardware, Wal-Mart, Sears, Costco, and the Hart American Grill serving the U.S. Senate.

2. BPA transfers easily from thermal paper receipts to human skin. In tests mimicking typical handling of receipts, BPA transferred from receipts to fingers. Just ten seconds of holding a receipt transferred up to 2.5 micrograms. Researchers transferred much higher amounts, about 15 times as much, by rubbing receipts.

3. Unregulated use of BPA has contaminated our money supply. Since BPA in thermal paper receipts is present in a powdery film, we suspected it could easily travel from those receipts to other objects. BPA was found on 21 of the 22 dollar bills tested. Although the levels of BPA detected on money are much lower than those on receipt paper, the near-ubiquitous presence of BPA on dollar bills indicates that BPA is escaping from products to contaminate other materials in unexpected ways.

“BPA on receipts, dollar bills, and in many other products, is a direct result of the absurdly lax controls on chemicals in the United States,” said Andy Igrejas, Director of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. “The 112th Congress should make reform of the failed 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act a top legislative priority to protect American families for generations to come.”

In the United States, there is no federal regulation of BPA (despite efforts), and there is no regulation of BPA in items like register receipts and paper products. Reports like these make us wonder about other chemicals which are allowed in our products. While state efforts are proving to be more successful than federal efforts, we need national oversight in order to protect all from the worst of the worst chemicals.

“Our findings demonstrate that BPA cannot be avoided, even by the most conscious consumer,” said Erika Schreder, staff Scientist at the Washington Toxics Coalition and lead author of the report. “This unregulated use of large amounts of BPA is having unintended consequences, including exposure to people when we touch receipts.”

You can reduce exposure to BPA from receipts by doing the following:

  • Refuse a receipt when you can.
  • Store your receipts separately, such as in a small envelope, in your wallet or purse.
  • Wash your hands after handing receipts or money.
  • Keep receipts away from young children.

Other ways to minimize BPA exposure include:

  • Limit your intake of canned foods. For some canned foods, choices in BPA- free cans are available from Eden Foods.
  • Choose alternatives to polycarbonate plastic for baby bottles and sports water bottles. For babies, glass and cloudy plastic bottles are better choices. For sports bottles, the best choice is stainless steel.
  • Choose powdered rather than liquid infant formula. If you do need liquid formula, use BPA-free containers.

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