A new university study is supporting previous findings that linked exposure to BPA — a chemical that came under fire especially when it was found in plastic water bottles — to the paper receipts used in many stores. But some disagree that these findings actually represent a hazard to the public.
BPA, or bisphenol-A, is a compound found in plastic products, the lining of metal can products and, for this study's purposes, thermal receipt paper. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to BPA has caused some concern because of its affect on the reproductive systems of lab animals. In humans, however, the CDC says more research is needed.
The study conducted by the University of Missouri and published this week reported to be among the first to provide data that BPA from cash register receipts is linked to a high level of of the chemical in humans. The study had subjects clean their hands and then hold such receipt paper known to have BPA. The test subjects then ate food afterward. The study authors found that BPA was absorbed quickly into the subject's system after this handling. The absorption rate might even be increased by the hand sanitizer the study subjects used to help clean their hands, according to the researchers.
"The problem is, we as consumers have hand sanitizers, hand creams, soaps and sunscreens on our hands that drastically alter the absorption rate of the BPA found on these receipts," Frederick vom Saal, a biological sciences professor at the university, said in a statement.
“Our research found that large amounts of BPA can be transferred to your hands and then to the food you hold and eat as well as be absorbed through your skin,” he added. “BPA exhibits hormone-like properties and has been proven to cause reproductive defects in fetuses, infants, children and adults as well as cancer, metabolic and immune problems in rodents. BPA from thermal papers will be absorbed into your blood rapidly; at those levels, many diseases such as diabetes and disorders such as obesity increase as well. Use of BPA or other similar chemicals that are being used to replace BPA in thermal paper pose a threat to human health.”
The American Chemistry Council, which represents chemistry companies, denounced some of the study's findings.
“Due to the use of unrealistic experimental conditions, much of the data presented in this new study has very limited relevance to the potential for human exposure to BPA from handling thermal receipt paper," Dr. Steven Hentges with the ACC's Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group said in a statement. "Although downplayed in the publication, the most relevant data shows very little BPA exposure under conditions most representative of real-life contact with thermal receipt paper."
Hentges cited another study published this year by the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health that conversely found exposure to BPA from handling receipts was not significant in "real-life exposure scenarios."
“The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has said unequivocally that BPA is safe for use in food contact materials. FDA’s current perspective is based on its review of hundreds of studies, as well as its comprehensive research on BPA," Hentges said.
Based on data taken a decade ago from more than 2,500 study participants age 6 and older, the CDC found BPA in nearly all people, suggesting it is widespread in the population overall. But, the CDC noted that the presence of BPA in urine tests does not necessarily mean it is linked to adverse health effects. It noted that researchers are evaluating the possible effects of different levels of exposure.
This recent study by the University of Missouri was published in the journal PLOS One.
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