New Research: Chemical Linked to Diabetes, Cancer Can Be Absorbed Through Receipts

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New research in the scientific journal PLOS ONE could be cause for alarm for consumers and cashiers alike. According to a study on the chemical interactions between hand sanitizer and cash register receipts, the former may cause harmful levels of chemical bisphenol A (used to bind dyes to receipt paper) to be absorbed into the skin. Also known as BPA, the chemical has been linked to health risks including reproductive problems, diabetes, and cancer.

"Store and fast food receipts, airline tickets, ATM receipts and other thermal papers all use massive amounts of BPA on the surface of the paper as a print developer," Frederick vom Saal, who led the study, told Forbes. "The problem is, we as consumers have hand sanitizers, hand creams, soaps and sunscreens on our hands that drastically alter the absorption rate of the BPA found on these receipts."

BPA is an endocrine disruptor, which means that it affects the way hormones like estrogen function in the body. Animal studies have suggested that it influences abnormal brain function and sexual development, Newsweek reported.

In the study, vom Saal and his team had participants handle receipts after using hand sanitizer, making their skin highly absorbent. They also had them eat french fries during the study, since BPA can also be orally ingested. BPA levels were then measured in skin, urine, and blood.

The results were alarming. 45 seconds of handling the receipts resulted in levels on the skin jumping to 581 ug BPA. And 90 minutes after touching them, levels in blood and urine were around 20 mg BPA/g creatinine--comparable to levels demonstrated in studies linking BPA with heart risk and type 2 diabetes.

The chemical has already been banned from sippy cups and bottles (behavioral problems in children are another possible effect of its absorption or ingestion), but the American Chemical Council has been quick to downplay the new study's findings, Forbes reports.

"Due to the use of unrealistic experimental conditions, much of the data presented in this new study has very limited relevance to the potential for human exposure to BPA from handling thermal receipt paper," said Steven G. Hentges. "Typical BPA exposure from all sources is about 1,000 times below safe intake levels set by government bodies in the U.S., Canada and Europe."

While the researchers stressed that one-time contact with BPA after using sanitizer probably isn't a major health hazard, regular exposure can be cause for concern--particularly for cashiers who spend their days handling receipts. Due to the ongoing debate over the chemical's effects, any sweeping changes are probably still some years away, but the new research is still unsettling enough to make you want to reach for a pair of gloves the next time you sign your restaurant bill.
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