Last week we experienced one of the landmark “freak out” moments in the history of discovering how we are poisoning ourselves. Years ago we learned that phthalates, the chemicals that make softer plastics, were hormone mimicking and thus very bad for us. They were in widespread use, including in pacifiers and water bottles. So, people moved to hard plastics, thinking they were safe. Then we recognized that bisphenol A (BPA) used in many products, including those hard plastic drinking bottles and the lining of metal food cans, was also an endocrine disruptor. Oooops! Honestly, those who touted BPA bottles as safe were at best woefully ignorant, because BPA was developed in the 1930’s AS A SYNTHETIC ESTROGEN. It waned in popularity after DES (yes that DES) was found to be stronger and therefore “better”(???). Recent government studies testing American citizens for environmental toxins in our blood found that everyone tested was contaminated with BPA
Last week even the new level of concern proved naively optimistic, with the discovery that we may have been blaming the wrong items for our BPA exposure. Spoiler alert – this discovery does not mean water bottles and those cans and other BPA sources are okay. Unfortunately, we just learned that another source appears to be far worse. Worst of all, that source is very, very difficult to avoid.
Got your interest?
The big nasty source is paper sales receipts. Investigators analyzed receipts from all the usual sources (ATMs, banks, grocery stores, gas stations, etc). Excepting ATMs, they were all heavily contaminated with BPA. While we have been fretting about exposures in the microgram range and lower, some of the receipts tested in this new study contained as much as 41 milligrams of BPA, nearly 3% of the weight of the receipt.
Now for those of you who don’t have much scientific training, 1 milligram (mg) is 1,000 micrograms (mcg). So, a receipt with 41 mg contains 41,000 mcg of BPA.
The sliver of good news is that BPA is probably absorbed less through our skin than by swallowing it. The obvious bad news is what to do about touching all of those receipts?
All I can suggest is to not accept any more of them than you have to, and wash your hands after touching them. The largest US manufacturer of these receipts, accounting for 40% of the market, has announced that because of their own concerns, their paper has been BPA-free for the last couple of years. Hopefully other manufacturers will follow suit and commercial establishments will have some way to choose BPA-free receipts. As the paper is processed into receipts by other paper companies, businesses cannot buy their paper directly from the primary non BPA company and no company is required to declare BPA content. I am hoping that the companies selling BPA-free papers will recognize this as a healthy marketing opportunity.