Handling grocery receipts may cost extra — at least in terms of health risks, a new study suggests.
Two chemicals in receipt paper that replace the toxic compound bisphenol A, or BPA, are just as capable of soaking into the human body as their predecessor, researchers report August 25 in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study marks the first time that one of the two compounds, BPSIP, or 4-hydroxyphenyl 4-isoprooxyphenylsulfone, has been documented in consumer goods and humans, says coauthor Kristina Thayer, a toxicologist.
The findings raises concern because the two chemicals, BPSIP and its relative bisphenol S, or BPS, may have the same health risks as BPA. BPA is used to make tough, durable plastics and epoxy resins, but it is also a hormone-mimicking chemical associated with cancer, obesity and cardiovascular diseases.
“Replacing BPA with BPS is just crazy,” says developmental endocrinologist Frederick vom Saal of the University of Missouri in Columbia. BPS is known to have some of the same effects as BPA in animals, mimicking hormones and altering brain development (SN: 4/4/15, p. 10).
But researchers know little about BPSIP, which has a chemical structure similar to those of BPA and BPS.Thayer, of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and colleagues tested receipts handled by 77 cashiers. They found that the receipts primarily contained either BPA, BPS or BPSIP. Researchers also sampled the blood and urine of the cashiers. Both before and after working a shift and handling receipts, many of the cashiers had one or more of the chemicals in their blood and urine. The blood concentrations of all three chemicals were within the range at which BPA causes health effects in animals, vom Saal says.
In the urine of the 32 cashiers who handled BPS-laden receipts, the average concentration of BPS doubled after a shift.
Researchers didn’t see a similar spike of BPSIP in the urine of the 12 cashiers who used BPSIP-coated receipts. But BPSIP was detected in blood more often than any of the other chemicals, showing up in samples across all cashiers, regardless of which receipts they handled. The chemical was also in about a third of urine samples from 25 people who do not work as cashiers. This result suggests that BPSIP may be used in more products than just receipts, Thayer says.
In the 33 cashiers handling BPA-coated receipts, BPA levels didn’t change significantly after working. This is possibly because there are many sources of BPA, including food containers, Thayer says.