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Most Retailers Give Receipts Containing Chemicals Like BPA

paying with credit card at pharmacy

March 26, 2023 – Most major chain stores still give receipts that have potentially toxic chemicals on them that can easily transfer to people’s skin, a new study shows.

Published by the advocacy group Ecology Center, the findings revealed that among a sample of 374 receipts from a combined 144 major chain retailers, 80% used bisphenols, also known as BPA or BPS. The chemicals are used to make polycarbonate plastics that are used for everything from dinnerware and beverage containers to toys and dental sealants. They are also key ingredients in the receipts that are spit out of cash registers all over the country.

"Receipts are a common exposure route for hormone-disrupting bisphenols which readily absorb through the skin,” said Melissa Cooper Sargent, an environmental health advocate for Ecology Center, in a statement. “Switching to non-toxic paper is an easy shift.”

Among the stores with receipts containing the chemicals were Walmart, McDonald’s, The Home Depot, U.S. post offices, and a Carter’s children’s clothing store. The full list of stores has been published by Ecology Center.

Since the organization’s last round of receipt analyses in 2017, the proportion of receipts testing positive for bisphenols decreased from 93% to 80%. Receipts from the following retailers or restaurants tested bisphenol-free: Costco, Culver's, CVS, H&M, Lululemon, REI, Starbucks, Target, Trader Joe’s, TJ Maxx family of stores, and Whole Foods.

Walgreens recently announced plans to use receipt paper that doesn’t use the toxic chemicals by the end of 2023.

“Most developer chemicals are present in high concentrations, above 1% by weight, in thermal paper,” the researchers stated in their report. “These chemicals are not strongly bound to the paper and come off easily onto the skin. Moisturizer and hand sanitizer have been found to enhance absorption through the skin.”

Most people have so much exposure to BPA that a 2004 CDC study found measurable levels of it in urine samples from nearly everyone in a group of more than 2,500 people. 

While the CDC says specific human risks of BPA exposure are unknown, laboratory studies of animals have shown reproductive impacts. The Mayo Clinic says studies have shown possible effects on the brains of fetuses, infants, and children, plus potential links to blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and childhood behavior. 

BPA in food packaging is studied and regulated by the FDA and is considered safe, the agency says. In 2012, the FDA banned the use of BPA in the manufacturing of baby sippy cups.

Ecology Center recommends that people decline a printed receipt when possible and to never hand them to children. Store workers can take precautions such as wearing gloves when handling receipts. Workers and customers alike should fold receipts in half to prevent touching the bisphenol-coated side of the paper.

Show Sources

Ecology Center: “New study finds toxic chemicals in 80% of receipt paper tested, down from 93% in 2017,” “Receipt Deceit: Toxic Chemicals in Receipt Paper,” “Test Results: Receipts From 2022.”

CDC: “Bisphenol A (BPA) Factsheet.”

Mayo Clinic: “What is BPA, and what are the concerns about BPA?”

FDA: “Questions & Answers on Bisphenol A (BPA) Use in Food Contact Applications.”

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