Study looks at dangers of BPAs in shopping receipts

EXPLAINED: A flow chart showing the relationship between dockets, hand sanitiser and BPAs in the body.
EXPLAINED: A flow chart showing the relationship between dockets, hand sanitiser and BPAs in the body.

AN INTERNATIONAL study has examined the link between handling thermal shopping receipts, hand sanitiser and Bisphenol A (BPA) exposure.

BPA is an endocrine-disrupting environmental contaminant used in a wide variety of products - heavily so in thermal docket paper where it is used as a print developer.

At the same time, some hand sanitisers and other cosmetic skin products contain chemicals that increase dermal absorption, meaning people who use such products and then handle receipts may be at a higher risk of exposure to BPAs.

Professor Ian Rae, an honorary professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne and former president of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute, said it was time for manufacturers to look for alternatives.

"It should not be beyond the capability of the producers to find another mild acid catalyst to replace BPA in thermal receipt paper," Prof Rae said. "They are not trying hard enough."

However, the study showed that for the majority of the population, handling thermal paper wasn't a significant source of BPA exposure.

But it does recommend that cashiers who want to be cautious should not handle thermal paper when their hands are wet with skin-penetrating hand sanitisers, and follow standard public health advice to wash their hands before eating food.

The theory

High levels of BPA in thermal printed shopping dockets may be dangerous because the BPA can enter the skin, especially when combined with hand sanitiser use.

The findings

Participants in the study handled receipts for about four minutes, which is considerably longer than most people hold receipts in individual situations.

The findings showed there's a higher level of exposure to BPAs from plastic food packaging than receipts.

The dangers

According to Food Standards Australia, BPA is a chemical used in the lining of some food and beverage packaging to protect food from contamination and extend shelf life. It's also used in non-food-related products.

Small amounts of BPA can migrate into food and beverages from containers.

In April 2011, the German Society of Toxicology did a comprehensive review of the safety of BPA and concluded the current tolerable daily intake (TDI) level was justified and that available evidence indicated BPA exposure represented no significant risk to human health, including to babies.

According to Food Standards Australia, extremely large amounts of foods and beverages would need to be consumed to reach the TDI for BPA.

For example, a nine-month-old baby weighing 9kg would have to eat more than 1kg of canned baby custard containing BPA every day to reach the TDI, assuming that the custard contained the highest level of BPA found (420 parts per billion) in a survey by Choice.

The precautions

Shoppers should try to wash their hands before eating after handling shopping dockets.

People who work as cashiers can choose to not handle receipts while their hands are wet with hand sanitiser and wash their hands before eating food.

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