Toxic Shockers

Photography by: Gary Taxali

You probably didn’t count on this hidden cost on your shopping bill: In July 2010, laboratory tests commissioned by the EWG found high levels of BPA on 40 percent of thermal paper receipts (the kind that change color when you scratch them) sampled from major U.S. businesses and services. In some cases, the amount of BPA measured was as much as 1,000 times greater than that found in common sources of BPA, such as canned foods and infant formula. Although most research has focused on BPA levels from ingested sources, a study published in July 2011 found that BPA transfers readily from receipts and can penetrate the skin to such a depth that it can’t be washed off. Obviously this poses problems for shoppers, but it’s even more of a risk for the 7.6 million people who work as retail salespeople and cashiers—the occupations with the highest employment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. “A typical employee running a register could handle hundreds of contaminated receipts in a single day,” notes Houlihan.

Smart solutions Fortunately many retailers use receipt paper without BPA, and the EWG has called on the companies whose receipts tested positive for BPA to change to BPA-free receipt paper. Until that happens, be sure to wear gloves if your job requires you to handle thermal paper frequently, only take receipts when you need them (some stores now offer to email them to you) and scrub your hands well after contact with the thermal ones.