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Charge Up for Good Health

The Health Hazards of Paper Receipts

A new study has found a potentially toxic chemical on receipts and paper money. Here’s how to protec...

The next time a cashier asks you if you want your receipt in your hand or in the bag, opt for the bag. Better yet, if you don’t need the receipt for your records, opt out of it altogether. And pay by credit or debit card so you don’t have to handle money either.

Why the drastic measures? A new study, done in part by the New York State Department of Health, found that thermal receipts, paper currency and other paper products from the U.S. and three other countries contained high levels of bisphenol S (BPS) -- a substitute for the compound bisphenol A (BPA), which has been banned by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in baby bottles and sippy cups because it’s been linked to infertility, cancers and genetic mutations, mainly in animal studies. (Read more about BPA here.)

BPS: A Poor Substitute
Many manufacturers are switching over to BPS in such products as receipt paper to comply with restrictions and regulations around the world. But there’s still a big problem. Researchers have discovered that like its cousin BPA, BPS is what’s called an endocrine disrupter. That means it mimics our own natural hormones, particularly estrogen, and like BPA, it’s absorbed directly through the skin.

Although BPS might be less potent than BPA, it also may be less biodegradable. While further study is needed, BPS is being introduced into the environment -- and into your hands and the recesses of your wallet -- every day.

In the current study, published in Environmental Science and Technology, all of the receipt paper, 87 percent of the paper currency and 52 percent of the recycled paper contained BPS. The study also suggests that people may be absorbing BPS in large doses through the skin. (Read more about the study here.)

So What Should You Do?

You can avoid the potential threat by asking for e-receipts and handling paper receipts and money as little as possible. Or “wash your hands soon after touching” the tainted paper, says researcher Kurunthachalam Kannan of the Wadsworth Center at the New York State Department of Health and the State University of New York at Albany.

There are other good reasons to avoid receipts. According to Market Watch in The Wall Street Journal, ATM receipts are one of the top sources of planetary litter. They estimate that if everyone in the U.S. would refuse one receipt, it would save a roll of paper more than 2 billion feet long. That would circle the equator 15 times. And that’s one paper trail we don’t want to follow.

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