Toxic chemical on your receipts may be harmful

Toxic chemical on your receipts may be harmful


by BILL McGINTY / NewsChannel 36 Staff

Bio | Email | Follow: @billwcnc

Posted on May 23, 2012 at 11:52 PM

Updated Thursday, May 24 at 9:22 AM

CHARLOTTE,  N.C. -- Sarah Reinhardt touches them every single day.

“It’s between 50 and 200 transactions an hour, so it’s very nerve racking,” said Reinhardt of the number of receipts that go through her fingers. And what she didn’t know, until NewsChannel 36 told her, is that those hundreds of receipts she touches everyday might have the potential to harm her.

What looks like a simple roll of paper is sometimes coated with a chemical called Bisphenol—more commonly known as BPA. Chemists say BPA is often used in plastics, most notably water bottles and baby bottles, until it was linked to possible heath issues.

If you leave the bottle in a hot car, the heat can cause a chemical reaction allowing the BPA to leach into the water. Today many plastic bottles and baby items now proudly label themselves as “BPA free.”

In receipt paper, the BPA is used as a color developer, a method designed to replace ink and toner, which will help reduce cost to a business.

In the Queens University chemistry lab, Sandra Wingate and Dr. Greg Pillar, PhD, tested 26 receipts from Charlotte area businesses. Some are from big chains, some are from fast foods places and some are from government locations.

NewsChannel 36 asked them to look for BPA, a toxic chemical, in these thermal paper receipts you get handed every day. 

“It’s (BPA) linked to prostate cancer, breast cancer, autism, early puberty in females and abnormalities in reproductive systems” said Sara Wingate.

BPA can be absorbed quickly into the skin from a receipt because it rubs off easily. It can be transferred to your food, your eyes and your mouth.  In a recent online article, the Environmental Protection Agency stated that certain occupations, like cashiers and food servers “may be at greater risk of exposure.”

 “The big concern is over time, accumulating very small amounts over a long period of time,” Dr. Pillar said.  “A job like a cashier could potentially be at risk.

“Fifteen of 26 receipts we analyzed from the Charlotte area contained measureable amounts of BPA” noted Dr. Pillar.  More than half contained this toxic chemical, including our January 2012 receipt from a Walmart.

Walmart told NewsChannel 36 it went BPA free companywide in 2011.  Because of our testing, Walmart re-tested all its stores in North Carolina.

A spokesperson said all their stores tested negative for BPA and that “Walmart implements its own BPA standards to ensure the safety of the customers and employees.”  

A McDonald’s receipt also turned up positive, and the arches said, "The primary supplier of receipt paper to the restaurant in question has confirmed that both the paper and the ink they supply to us is BPA-free. Without more specific information or the actual receipts themselves, it is difficult for us to comment further."

NewsChannel 36 mentioned these two companies specifically because of the volume of people they serve.

Sarah, the cashier at the Common Market, is in the clear.  We checked with her paper supplier, who assured NewsChannel 36 they use BPA-free thermal paper.

Chemists say there is no clear-cut way to tell if the receipt in your hand has BPA on it because you can’t see it, feel it, smell it or even taste it.  You have to either ask the papermaker or get it tested.

If you handle receipts a lot and you’re not sure if the paper has BPA on it, then wash your hands with soap and water. Don’t use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or cream because chemists say it speeds up the process of absorbing BPA into your skin and bloodstream.

To learn more about what the EPA standards are on BPA, you can go here.