Saturday Special (04/08/2023): Would you like your receipt?

Might be best to say no.

80 Percent of Retail Receipts Contain Toxic Substances

By David Charbonneau, Ph.D., a freelance journalist who has also taught literature and writing at the college level for 25 years.
The Epoch Times
Apr 6 2023

Receipts tested from 144 major U.S. business chains last year contain bisphenols (e.g. BPA and BPS)—chemicals identified as reproductive disruptors by researchers and some government agencies.(Robert Hoetink/Shutterstock)

Receipts tested from 144 major U.S. business chains last year contain bisphenols (e.g. BPA and BPS)—chemicals identified as reproductive disruptors by researchers and some government agencies.(Robert Hoetink/Shutterstock)

The Ecology Center (EC) recently published the results of a 2022 study of the chemical composition of retail receipts in the United States. It found that 80 percent of the receipts contained toxic substances.

The EC tested receipts from 144 major chain stores in 22 states, plus the District of Columbia. Bisphenols (most commonly BPA or BPS) were found in 80 percent of the receipts tested—a 13 percent decrease from the center’s findings in 2017.

According to the new study, “purchase receipts are an underrecognized source of hormone-disrupting chemicals in our bodies–especially for workers who frequently handle receipts.”

The study went on to explain that “nearly all receipts are made from thermal paper, which is coated with layers of chemicals that allow an image to form when a special print head applies heat.” The researchers used a rapid screening technique to identify developer chemicals, such as BPS, BPA, and non-bisphenol alternatives present on the receipts.

Volunteers collected cash register receipts for the first 11 months of 2022. Collected receipts were folded with the blank side out to avoid transferring chemicals between receipts. The researchers tested receipts from 22 U.S. states and Washington, D.C., with the majority from southeast Michigan.

Stores and chains tested included McDonald’s, Popeye’s, Whole Foods, Kroger’s, Costco, Target, CVS, Walgreens, Lowe’s, Ace Hardware, Old Navy, and many more.

“While not exhaustive, the data represent a wide range of major retail stores visited by people in their daily lives,” the authors of the study wrote.

The researchers found BPS in 79 percent of tested receipts, down from 84 percent of receipts tested in 2017. BPA was present in less than 1 percent of receipts tested, down from 9 percent in 2017.

The group found safer chemical alternatives in 20 percent of receipts tested, up from 2 percent of receipts tested in 2017.

In the report, the researchers noted the progress toward removing dangerous receipts while emphasizing that “this unnecessary toxic hazard is still common and poses a particular hazard to workers handling sometimes hundreds of receipts daily.”

“Fast food and fast casual-restaurant workers often handle hundreds of receipts during each shift, which means that potential exposure to endocrine disrupting BPS or BPA is constant,” said Autumn Weintraub, fast food campaign director and member of Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, in the EC’s press statement.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that retail workers have 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than the average American.

The EC researchers said that “health advocates encourage minimizing the printing of receipts and a move toward digital options as a safer solution.”

“Receipts are a common exposure route for hormone-disrupting bisphenols which readily absorb through the skin. Our studies show most retailers use bisphenol-coated receipt paper,” said Melissa Cooper Sargent, environmental health advocate at the Ecology Center of Michigan, in the statement. “Switching to nontoxic paper is an easy shift. We urge retailers to stop handing out chemical-laced paper to their consumers and putting employees at risk.”

“BPA and BPS are known to disrupt our hormones and have been linked to numerous health harms, including cancer, birth defects, and other developmental issues,” Nancy Buermeyer, director of program and policy at Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, told the EC.

“Now it’s time to remove these dangerous and unnecessary chemicals from thermal receipt paper,” Buermeyer said. “This exposure concerns all consumers; however, the risk is highest for cashiers, over 70 percent of whom are women. We look forward to California’s Assembly Bill 1347, ‘Skip the Slip,’ which calls for digital receipts and BPS/BPA-free receipts, becoming law.”

“Retailers can protect their customers, their communities, and their employees. Removing bisphenols from receipt paper is step one, and we encourage retailers to take the next step of not printing receipts altogether unless a customer asks for one and offer a digital receipt option to all customers,” said Dan Howells, climate campaigns director at Green America.

According to the Retailer Report Card, major retailers including CVS Health, Loblaw, Target, and T.J. Maxx have recently moved to eliminate bisphenols in receipts.

The Dangers of Bisphenols

Bisphenols are a group of chemicals used in the manufacturing of plastics, resins, and other industrial and consumer products. They are commonly found in plastic bottles, the lining of metal cans and water storage tanks—and in retail receipts, among other products. According to the EWG, BPA “ranks in the top 2 percent of high-production-volume chemicals” in the United States.

Bisphenol-A (BPA), the most publicized of the group of 40 or so chemicals, was initially considered for pharmaceutical use as a synthetic estrogen in the 1930s. Unfortunately, many plastic products marketed today as BPA-free contain replacement chemicals similar to bisphenols.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Sciences (NIES), “the primary source of exposure to BPA for most people is through the diet. While air, dust, and water are other possible sources of exposure, BPA in food and beverages accounts for the majority of daily human exposure.”

Researchers have found BPA in the bodies of nearly all Americans. The 2003–2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), supervised by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found detectable levels of BPA in 93 percent of over 2,500 urine samples from people 6 years old and up. The NIES cites this data as representative of exposures in the United States.

“Another reason for concern, especially for parents,” according to the NIES, “may be because some animal studies report effects in fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA.”

Though the health consequences of BPA and BPS are still debated in some scientific circles, comprehensive reviews of peer-reviewed research have concluded that bisphenols are endocrine disruptors that can have an impact on human reproductive systems and the neurological development of children, among other effects.

In the wake of such conclusions, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has expressed concern about the presence of these chemicals in humans. The EPA acknowledges animal studies showing BPA as “a reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant” and as “weakly estrogenic.”

According to the EPA, “there are questions about its potential impact, particularly on children’s health and the environment.”

The agency goes on to state that “studies employing standardized toxicity tests used globally for regulatory decision-making indicate that the levels of BPA in humans and the environment are below levels of potential concern for adverse effects. However, results of some recent studies using novel low-dose approaches and examining different endpoints describe subtle effects in laboratory animals at very low concentrations.”

Some researchers of chemical toxicity believe that the toxicity tests first developed in the 1970s for “standardized toxicity tests for regulatory decision-making”—referred to as Good Laboratory Practice (GLP)—are outdated and no longer reflect current science. For instance, using GLP to test bisphenol-induced neurological problems in lab rats, a 2010 study cited in an article in Science relied on weighing rodent brains and observational tests such as laying the rat on its back, then measuring how long it took for the animal to right itself. The study found no evidence of BPA damage to the test animals’ nervous systems, but was not nuanced enough to measure for things like endocrine disruptions.

However, in a 2019 study summarizing the results from multiple studies, Heather Patisaul, a neurotoxicologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, concluded:

“Evidence of altered neuroendocrine development, including age- and sex-specific expression of estrogen receptor[s] … and the abrogation of brain and behavioral sexual dimorphisms, supports the conclusion that developmental BPA exposure, even at doses below what regulatory agencies regard as ‘safe’ for humans, contribute to brain and behavioral change.”

“The scientific apparatus in the world is higher than it has ever been in human history, and yet most of that is being ignored when it comes to public health protection from environmental chemicals,” Tom Zoeller, a research endocrinologist at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, who has studied how BPA interacts with the thyroid system, told Science magazine.

According to the EWG, “Government assessments fail to adequately consider BPA low-dose toxicity.”

In reviewing 115 studies, the group concluded that even “at some of the very lowest doses, the chemical causes permanent alterations of breast and prostate cells that precede cancer, insulin resistance (a hallmark trait of type 2 diabetes), and chromosomal damage linked to recurrent miscarriage and a wide range of birth defects including Down’s syndrome.”

How to Protect Yourself From Exposure

The Ecology Center recommends consumers forego receipts when not necessary and/or request digital receipts where available.

The center also suggests shoppers:

  • Pressure favorite retailers to ban bisphenols in receipts and replace with safe substitutes.
  • Contact state and federal representatives and demand a ban on bisphenols in receipts and home products.
  • Fold receipts with the printed side in as the backside is usually untreated, if you take one.
  • Not give receipts to children.
  • Wash hands after touching receipts.
  • Dispose of receipts in the trash rather than recycling to avoid contaminating the recycled paper stream.

According to the EC, receipts from the following retailers were typically bisphenol-free:

  • Costco
  • Culver’s
  • CVS
  • H&M
  • Lululemon
  • REI
  • Starbucks
  • Target
  • Trader Joe’s
  • TJX (T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Sierra Trading Post, Home Goods)
  • Whole Foods

In reducing general exposure to BPA, the Mayo Clinic recommends that consumers:

  • Use BPA-free products. Look for products labeled BPA-free. If unlabeled, avoid plastics marked with recycle code 3 or 7, as they may contain BPA.
  • Do not put plastic containers in the microwave or dishwasher because heat may allow BPA to leach into food.
  • Choose fresh, whole foods. Select unpackaged whole fruits and vegetables whenever possible.
  • Use alternatives such as glass, porcelain, or stainless steel containers for hot foods and liquids instead of plastic.

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