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.
The report found:
1. That about half of the thermal paper receipts tested had large quantities of unbound BPA. Unbound BPA means that it can transfer very easily to skin, and to things like paper money.
2. That BPA transfers easily from thermal paper receipts to human skin. Researchers mimicked the action of handling a receipt, and found that significant amounts of BPA transferred to fingers.
3. Our paper money is contaminated with BPA. Researchers tested 22 dollar bills and found BPA in 21 of the bills tested. While the BPA on money could be coming from many sources, it is likely partially due to thermal paper receipts.
“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.”
Most of us deal with receipts or paper money several times a day, and these results show that we are most likely exposed to BPA when we do so. Cashiers and retail employees who handle money as a regular part of their work are more exposed to BPA.
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.”
We hope that the 112th Congress will be able to overhaul the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act -- the law that oversees chemical safety that is not up to modern standards and allows chemicals like BPA to remain ubiquitous and unregulated, despite harmful health effects.
In the meantime, Washington Toxics recommends consumers reduce BPA exposure by refusing a receipt when you can, storing receipts separate from everything (like in a small envelope), washing your hands after handling receipts or money, and keeping receipts away from young children.