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Study: BPA Is in Wide Variety of Paper Products

Chemical Bisphenol A Is Found in Napkins, Toilet Paper, and Cash Register Receipts
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

cash register receipt

Dec. 2, 2011 -- It seems there's no escaping the chemical bisphenol A (BPA), which is used to make plastics like water bottles and to coat the insides of aluminum cans.

Now a new study shows that BPA is also in a wide variety of paper products, including napkins, toilet paper, tickets, food wrappers, newspapers, and printer paper.

"The concentrations are very high in the paper products," says study researcher Kurunthachalam Kannan, PhD, a research scientist at the New York State Department of Health.

Kannan tested more than 200 paper samples from 15 different types of products.

He found BPA levels in paper that were 100 to 1 million times higher than amounts detected in canned and packaged foods.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Researchers say that because only a fraction of that is absorbed through the skin, most people probably pick up far less BPA handling paper than they do from their diets.

But those amounts may wind up being significant for people like cashiers or printers who have to touch a lot of BPA-tainted paper as part of their jobs.

"We've been focused on food, but there could be certain groups of people that could be exposed through other routes and other sources," says Joseph Braun, PhD, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, who is studying how BPA may affect kids' behavior. He was not involved in the latest study.

In Braun's studies, pregnant women who worked as cashiers had BPA levels that were about 30% higher than pregnant women who had different kinds of jobs.

BPA in Recycled Paper

How did BPA get into paper? Probably recycling, researchers say.

A thin coating of powdered BPA is used on some kinds of heat-sensitive paper, like cash register receipts, shipping labels, and lottery tickets.

Researchers estimate that tossed thermal paper contributes about 33.5 tons of BPA to the environment each year.

About 30% of thermal paper winds up being recycled, introducing BPA into many different kinds of items.

That's concerning, researchers say, because BPA is chemically similar to the hormone estrogen. It has been linked to problems with reproduction and sexual development, to behavioral and developmental problems in young children, and to some kinds of cancer.

Experts say such studies are suggestive, but not conclusive. And they insist that there's no danger from BPA in paper.

"These are trivial exposures," far below the tolerable safe levels of BPA set by the Environmental Protection Agency, says John Heinze, PhD, executive director of the Environmental Health Research Foundation in Chantilly, Va., a nonprofit organization that does research for the American Chemistry Council, an industry group. "They don't really raise any concerns for safety. That's really what their data show."

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