Greasy Fast Food Causes Rapid Release of BPA from Register Receipts

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BPA (bisphenol-A) is an endocrine disruptor well known for the controversy surrounding its effects on human health, and there may be a new threat: touching BPA-laced thermal register receipts with greasy fingers.

The chemical appears to be more readily absorbed by the body if you use a combo of hand sanitizer, touch a receipt and then greasy foods, such as french fries.

That’s the conclusion in a recent study published in the journal PLOS One, which “is the first to show how handling BPA-coated receipts can account for exposure at levels that have been shown to harm health,” Civil Eats reports.

"[T]his study shows that skin absorption of BPA appears to lead to higher levels of biologically active BPA in the body than when the chemical is digested with food,” Civil Eats explains. “When scientists added in two other factors–scrubbing hands with hand sanitizer and eating greasy food–the evidence points to a super-sized dose of BPA.”

BPA is fat soluble, so the food grease helps work the chemical into the body faster. A freshly washed or sanitized hand removes the skin’s natural oils, which work like barriers, making it easier for the chemical to be absorbed into the body.

“The combination of dermal and oral BPA absorption led to a rapid and dramatic average maximum increase in unconjugated (bioactive) BPA…in blood and urine within 90 minutes,” the study authors wrote. And according to Civil Eats, “BPA was absorbed by people who held a receipt for as little as two seconds.”

What’s perhaps most alarming about the study’s findings is that low-dose exposure to BPA—just a few parts per trillion—have been shown to produce serious health issues, often even more so than in higher level exposure.

BPA has been connected with developmental issues in children and as a result, the FDA has banned it from products including baby bottles, sippy cups and formula containers. Several states have moved towards stricter regulations, and it’s banned in countries including France, Canada and China.

But many U.S.- based companies are still on the fence about removing BPA from products like canned soup and soda cans, citing that there isn’t enough conclusive evidence that it causes harm. Some have begun to remove it solely to satisfy customer backlash. But the chemical is still found in most modern thermal cash register receipts, those slightly silky receipts that are softer than regular paper - and BPA alternatives aren’t proving to be much safer. Some studies suggest they’re even more harmful.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: Michael Bentley

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