Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Promoting Public Health: Recycling thermal cash register
receipts contaminates paper products with BPA

December 05, 2011

Recycling thermal cash register
receipts contaminates other
paper products with BPA.
Credit: American Chemical Society.

Summary

Bisphenol A (BPA) — a substance that may have harmful
health effects — occurs in 94 percent of thermal cash
register receipts, scientists are reporting. The recycling
of those receipts, they add, is a source of BPA
contamination of paper napkins, toilet paper, food
packaging and other paper products. The report, which
could have special implications for cashiers and other
people who routinely handle thermal paper receipts,
appears in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology.

The recycling of those thermal cash register receipts, they add, is a source of BPA contamination of paper napkins, toilet paper, food packaging and other paper products. The report, which could have special implications for cashiers and other people who routinely handle thermal paper receipts, appears in ACS’ journal Environmental Science & Technology. Manufacturers produce more than 8 billion pounds of BPA worldwide every year. Research links BPA with a variety of harmful health effects. BPA has been used in plastic water bottles, the lining of food cans and a variety of other products. But how much do non-food sources contribute to humans’ daily BPA exposure?

Here’s the study’s lead author Kurunthachalam Kannan, Ph.D., of the New York State Department of Health and the State University of New York at Albany …

“BPA coats the surfaces of thermal receipts, where it acts as a developer for the printing dye. To see whether this source of BPA was a concern, we analyzed hundreds of samples of thermal cash register receipts and 14 other paper types from the U.S., Japan, Korea and Vietnam.”

They found BPA on 94 percent of all the receipts. The only receipts with that were BPA-free were those from Japan, which phased out this use of BPA in 2001. BPA was in most of the other types of paper products, with tickets, newspapers and flyers having the highest concentrations. But these levels still paled in comparison to BPA on receipts, which the study said are responsible for more than 98 percent of consumer exposure to BPA from paper.

“We estimate that receipts contribute about 33.5 tons of BPA to the environment every year in the U.S. and Canada. Also, handling of paper products can contribute up to 2 percent of the total daily BPA exposures in the general population, and that fraction can be much higher in occupationally exposed individuals.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st Century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges Today’s podcast was written by Katie Cottingham. I’m Adam Dylewski at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

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Kurunthachalam Kannan, Ph.D.,
State Department of Health
State University
Albany, New York