Retail workers are being exposed to “worrying” levels of BPA and BPS – hormone disrupting industrial chemicals that have been linked to diabetes, obesity, ADHD and breast and prostate cancers – by simply handling thermal paper receipts, a study by Environmental Defence Canada (EDC) has found.
“These slips of paper are covertly exposing cashiers to worrying levels of hormone disrupting BPA and BPS every day,” Muhannad Malas, toxics programme manager at EDC, said in the study. “But it doesn’t have to be this way.”
For the first-of-its-kind experiment, Malas, EDC toxics programme director Sarah Jamal and two other volunteers handled receipts, tickets and passes printed on thermal paper and then conducted urine tests to show how easily BPA – short for “bisphenol A” and commonly found in thermal paper – can be absorbed through the skin. They also handled thermal paper coated with BPS, or bisphenol S, which several companies have switched to in light of BPA-related concerns, though some scientists warn it could have similar negative health effects.
The team at EDC found that BPA levels in their bodies rose up to 42 times higher than a pre-exposure baseline and BPS levels increased by up to 115 times. The findings were “mindboggling”, Malas said.
The results have also worried union leaders representing retail workers. “I mean a lot of them don’t even know that these chemicals exist,” United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Canada health and safety representative Mary Shaw told CTV News. “They are not being informed by their employers either which is incredibly frustrating.”
The union has suggested that cashiers wear protective gloves until safer alternatives to thermal paper receipts are introduced. That stance was even espoused in the autumn 2018 edition of ‘Checkout,’ UFCW Canada’s news magazine. The European Union has already taken action, banning the use of BPA in receipts from next year.