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Study: Paper Money Contains Traces of BPA

Researchers Say the Chemical Gets Into Money From Contact With Cash Register Receipts
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Aug. 12, 2011 -- Paper money may contain trace levels of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical found in some plastics and other consumer products, a study shows.

But only small amounts of BPA are absorbed through our skin when we handle the money, the study shows.

The study is published in Environmental Science & Technology.

BPA is considered an endocrine disruptor, which means it looks or acts like a hormone in the body. It may be associated with behavioral and reproductive issues. Young children may be particularly vulnerable to these effects. As a result, many manufacturers have taken steps to eliminate the BPA in baby bottles and some sippy cups.

The study analyzed BPA levels in 156 forms of paper money from 21 countries. All of them contained some BPA.

The highest amounts of BPA were found in paper money from Brazil, the Czech Republic, and Australia. The lowest amounts of BPA were seen in paper money from the Philippines and Thailand. Levels of BPA in U.S. dollars were about average.

"Although there were high levels found in paper money, there were not high levels absorbed through the skin," says researcher Kurunthachalam Kannan, PhD, a scientist at the Wadsworth Center and professor of environmental health and toxicology at State University of New York, both in Albany.

BPA levels in cash were higher than what is found in house dust. But human intake of BPA from currency is at least 10 times less than what is seen with house dust.

The study only looked at skin absorption of BPA from currency, but there may be other routes of exposure. Some people -- including children -- may put their money in their mouths, he says. "Dermal [skin] exposure is low because what is absorbed through the skin is only a fraction of what is on the paper."

"Limit handling of paper money, and when you do touch it, rinse your hands with water," he says. "I wouldn't put money in my mouth, and don't let children handle money either."

How BPA Gets on Money

So how does BPA get onto our money in the first place?  It may rub off from thermal paper receipts that are often placed next to paper money in wallets. These receipts are coated with BPA to prevent smudging.

Cashiers may absorb higher levels of BPA than other people because of their constant contact with both cash and receipts. "Further studies are needed to assess exposure among cashiers and others who come into frequent contact with paper currencies," Kannan says.  

Cashiers should consider protective gloves while handling receipts and currency, he says. Now Kannan and colleagues are analyzing levels of BPA in other household paper products such as newspaper and toilet paper.

Andy Igrejas, national campaign director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families in Washington, D.C., says the new findings confirm and broaden previous research about levels of BPA found in the money supply.

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