Healthy Stuff Testing Finds Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals in Receipts

By Melissa Sargent, Ecology Center Director of Green Living Resources 

I’ve picked up this little habit of folding receipts, printed side in when they are handed to me in the store. I may even gently ask the grocery store cashier to fold the receipt that way, as my teenage daughter turns red and pretends not to know me. No, it’s not a compulsion or obsession. It’s what I know is most likely on the printed side of the receipt: Bisphenol-A (BPA) or Bisphenol-S (BPS).

The Ecology Center recently examined 207 receipts from 148 businesses to see if the receipt manufacturers have moved away from BPA. Indeed they have, but it's not all good news. The report, More Than You Bargained For: BPS and BPA in Receipts, found only 18% of the analyzed receipts contain BPA. But, unfortunately, 75% contained BPS (Bisphenol-S).

Why is this of concern? Shoppers may breathe a small sigh of relief when they see a “BPA-free” label on a plastic item on the store shelf. It’s been banned in baby bottles and sippy cups because it’s a known hormone disruptor. It is linked to female and male infertility, early puberty, breast and prostate cancers, as well as metabolic disorders. It’s been voluntarily removed from some food can linings as well.  But, as manufacturers move away from BPA, some have jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. The easiest chemical with which to replace BPA is its chemical cousin, BPS. BPA and BPS are phenols. Both BPA and BPS are known endocrine disruptors. BPS may be just as bad as BPA.

Laura Vandenberg, Ph.D., studies endocrine disruptors at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, School of Public Health & Health Sciences. "Work in my lab has shown that BPS alters exposed mice. Low doses disrupt maternal behaviors, the brain, and the mammary gland in nursing females. Data and emerging work from other groups raise concern that the replacement of BPA with BPS is regrettable. Even though the number of studies on BPS remains limited, I feel there is sufficient evidence to raise concern about its safety."

When these chemicals are used as developers on thermal receipt paper, they rub off very easily. And they get absorbed right into the bloodstream. In fact, research shows that even though the food and beverage can industry uses the highest amount of BPA and BPS, people are more commonly exposed through the thermal paper. We handle thermal paper every day. Think about every bank and ATM receipt, gas station receipt, receipts from restaurants and retail stores. And if you work as a cashier you will handle an average of 30 thermal receipts an hour.

What should you do? You can fold your receipts glossy side in like I do because the back side is typically not coated with a developer. Some people choose to carry an envelope just for receipts to make sure the BPA or BPS doesn’t rub onto cash or other items. You can decline receipts where possible or ask for an electronic receipt. And make sure to wash hands after handling receipts. This may sound surprising, but don’t recycle them. Recycling BPS- and BPA-based paper can contaminate future products made from the recycled paper.

One of the most important things you should do is send a message to TJX Companies (TJ Maxx, Marshalls, HomeGoods, Sierra Trading Post) and Meijer, a Midwest superstore chain to stop using phenol developers. We need your help calling on these companies to switch to non-toxic receipts.

Healthy Stuff’s receipt report has already had an impact. Trader Joe’s was among the companies whose receipts were tested and were found to contain BPS. After the Ecology Center informed Trader Joe’s about the study, the discount natural grocery chain decided to make a change. Trader Joe’s announced, “We are now pursuing receipt paper that is free of phenol chemicals (including BPA and BPS), which we will be rolling out to all stores as soon as possible.”

Hopefully, Meijer, TJX-Companies, and other retailers will follow the lead of Best Buy, which has already switched to phenol-free receipt paper. Healthy Stuff testing also found some receipts without any developer coating. I look forward to no longer having to fold my receipts in half.  And then, I can move on to finding new ways to embarrass my teenager in public. Should be easy enough.