Bisphenol A (BPA) is an industrial chemical that’s used in plastic bottles, inside metal cans, and in the lining of bottle caps.
When it became widely known that BPA was leaching into the foods and drinks inside those containers, many people ditched the cans and bottles, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the use of BPA in baby products.
A much bigger problem
New research, however, shows that another common product exposes people to up to 1,000 times more BPA than what you might get from food or drink packaged in BPA polycarbonate: thermal paper. That’s the thin paper that many receipts, boarding passes, and theater tickets are printed on. A 2016 study found that BPA levels in urine were almost three times higher in cashiers who handled thermal paper receipts than people in a control group.
Not all receipts are printed on thermal paper. The Environmental Working Group found that while McDonald’s, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, Walmart, Safeway, and the U.S. Postal Service use thermal paper, Target, Starbucks, and Bank of America automated teller machines do not. You can easily check if paper is thermally treated by rubbing it with a coin. Thermal paper will discolor when rubbed.
Why it matters
Many animal studies have warned that BPA can interfere with hormone signals. Hormones are chemical messengers that help control body functions. Studies suggest a link with cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, infertility, and behavioral problems in children.
The FDA’s current stance on BPA was based on a four-year review of more than 300 research studies that was completed in 2014. Since then, new research has emerged. A 2019 study presented to the European Respiratory Society found that pregnant women with high levels of BPA in their urine had children that were at higher risk for poor lung capacity and wheezing. There were more than 2,500 women in the study, and close to 80 percent of them had detectable levels of BPA in their urine. Those with the highest levels gave birth to children with a 23 percent higher risk of asthma.
A 2020 study published in the journal JAMA Network Open followed close to 4,000 adults with BPA in their urine over a period of 10 years. People with the highest levels of BPA were 50 percent more likely to die of any cause over 10 years compared to people with the lowest levels of BPA. Although this study does not prove that BPA contributed to those deaths, the researchers conclude that further studies are called for.
Reduce your exposure
Lowering your exposure to BPA can be simple with these steps:
- Avoid plastic when possible. Glass and metal food storage containers and water bottles are now widely available.
- When you do need plastic, check for the recycle code and don’t use anything with a 3 or 7. Those types of plastic are likely to contain BPA.
- Don’t put any food containers that may have BPA in the dishwasher or microwave. Heating increases the risk of BPA leaking out.
- Throw away old plastic containers. Age breaks down the plastic, releasing BPA.
- Use plastic containers marked BPAfree with caution. Studies show that these replacements can also interfere with the body’s hormones.
- Avoid canned foods and metal bottle caps when possible.
- Use fresh, frozen, or dried food instead of canned.
- If you can’t avoid foods in BPAlined cans, rinse the food in water before eating.
- Never heat food in a can.
- If you don’t need a receipt, don’t take it. If you need a record, ask for an email or text receipt instead.
- If you save your receipts, wash your hands when you get home and save your receipts inside a bag or envelope.
- Do not let children handle thermal paper.
- Don’t put thermal paper into your recycling. BPA residue from receipts will contaminate recycled paper.