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Keeping your receipts may make good financial sense, but handling them involves significant health risks you should know about and how to mitigate.
If you are like me, you hesitate at the checkout counter whenever the cashier asks you "would you like your receipt"? If your inner accountant is alive and well, you will find yourself wanting to keep it, which means touch it. But on the other hand, if you are already aware of the information in this article, the idea of handling a bisphenol A saturated thermal printer receipt without gloves makes as much sense as handling gasoline or paint thinner without protection.
And if you are really "neurotic" like me, you may find yourself thinking about the health of the cashier, who undoubtedly has been handling receipts all shift long, and will continue to be exposed -- often unwittingly -- to a significant dose of bisphenol A throughout the course of their employment. This is why I cringe doubly when I refuse a receipt, because I realize that the cashier has no idea why I would do so, nor that they have suffered a harmful chemical exposure in the very act of offering the receipt to me.
All this might sound overly cautious if it had not already been proven that exposure to thermal printer receipts is one of the primary routes through which our bodies become contaminated with the toxic synthetic chemical known as bisphenol A (BPA), a potent endocrine disruptor, carcinogen, and neurotoxic and cardiotoxic chemical, linked to over 50 adverse health effects. BPA is also found in airline tickets, gas and ATM receipts, and paper currency absorbs the BPA contained within these receipts, making daily exposure even more likely.
There are other important variables that play into how much of this chemical we absorb. For instance, bisphenol absorption is exponentially enhanced with the use of mass market skin care products, which are themselves mainly comprised of petrochemically-derived ingredients whose toxicities are also a major concern. For instance, back in 2014, a highly concerning study published in PLoS titled, "Holding thermal receipt paper and eating food after using hand sanitizer results in high serum bioactive and urine total levels of bisphenol A (BPA)," found that hand sanitizers, as well as other skin care products, contain mixtures of chemicals that can increase the absorption of fat-soluble compounds such as BPA by as much as 100 fold.
There is also the disturbing fact that 93% of healthy infants aged 3-15 months were found to be contaminated with BPA without any known cause of environmental exposure, revealing how truly widespread contamination is, regardless of direct exposure to thermal printer receipts.1
A provocative study published in Environmental Health Perspectives titled, "Bisphenol A, Bisphenol S, and 4-Hydroxyphenyl 4-Isoprooxyphenylsulfone (BPSIP) in Urine and Blood of Cashiers", reveals that the problem of chemical exposure through paper receipts is not simply associated with bisphenol A exposure, but with other bisphenol analogs as well. As we have seen with the recent increase in products explicitly labeled as "bisphenol A free", the industries that have become reliant on the chemical are now substituting bisphenol S (and perhaps other bisphenols) in these products, despite the fact that it possesses similar toxicity. This is all the more disturbing considering recent research revealing that bisphenol S may be 100x more potent an endocrine disruptor than bisphenol A.
The chemical class known as bisphenols actually includes over a dozen different forms, including bisphenols A, B, C, F, P. The new study found that the printer receipts contained between 1-2% BPA, BPS, or BPSIP (a bisphenol S variation), by weight. The blood and urine samples of cashiers were evaluated for bisphenol levels in post-shift samples compared with pre-shift samples, finding that the receipts contained between 1-2% BPA, PBS, or BPSIP, by weight, and that their levels of BPS were significantly higher than non-cashiers. Based on the cashier's toxicological profile, the study concluded, "Thermal receipt paper is a potential source of occupational exposure to BPA, BPS, and BPSIP."
So, what do you do if you shouldn't touch or keep your receipts?
One easy 'no touch' way to track receipts is to take a photo of it and email it to yourself or a special email account you create to account for them. You could also use one of many phone apps that help you photo and track your receipts. Here is an article on IGeeksBlog.com on the "Best iPhone Receipt Tracking Apps: Never Miss An Expense Again."
Also, consider that there is research on natural ways to mitigate bisphenol toxicity. We have a list of over 20 natural substances, including kimchi, royal jelly, genistein and black tea, that have been shown to protect against this ubiquitous toxicant. Visit the list here.
1 K Mendonca, R Hauser, A M Calafat, T E Arbuckle, S M Duty. Bisphenol A concentrations in maternal breast milk and infant urine. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 2012 Dec 5. Epub 2012 Dec 5. PMID: 23212895
Originally published: 2015-09-01
Article updated: 2019-03-10