Thermal paper store receipts have been coated with the endocrine-disrupting chemical BPA (bisphenol A) for many years*. As the chemical transfers readily from thermal paper, just briefly touching thermal coated receipts and other paper products coated with BPA is enough to transfer the toxic chemical to the human body. In response to public and regulatory pressure in recent years to remove BPA from the market, manufacturers have turned to the BPA-replacement chemical BPS (bisphenol S), a chemical in the same family as BPA and structurally and toxicologically similar.
Unfortunately, that cure appears to be as bad–or worse–than the problem. A rapidly growing body of scientific evidence strongly suggests that BPS, like its predecessor BPA, disrupts hormones and harms reproductive, developmental, metabolic and cardiovascular health. Other preliminary evidence suggests BPS may play a role in altering immune function, heart disease, certain cancers, interfering with brain development and asthma. Despite the potential health hazards, avoiding these bisphenol chemicals is near impossible. In fact, bisphenol chemicals like BPA and BPS are now considered ubiquitous in the environment. According to the Environmental Working Group, exposure to BPA and BPS in the U.S. is widespread and pervasive. A 2018 study of more than 1,800 American adults detected BPA and BPS in 95 and 89 percent of participants, respectively. Cashiers who handle BPS-containing receipts at work have significantly higher BPS levels in their urine after clocking out, meaning BPS exposure from thermal paper is a real concern.
- When possible, say “no” to paper receipts. Take advantage of email or text receipts.
- If you do accept a paper receipt, store it separately in an envelope (BPA and BPS can contaminate currency and other items stored next to receipts) and then wash your hands, especially before preparing food or eating.
- Prevent children from touching receipts.
- Avoid using lotions, hand sanitizers or anything else wet or greasy on your hands immediately before touching receipts. Wetness or greasiness may increase the amount of chemicals transferred onto the skin and its capacity to absorb BPA or BPS.
- Since bisphenol residues from receipts contaminate the recycled paper stream, put receipts and other thermal paper into the trash rather than the recycle bin.
*In addition to sales receipts, BPA- and BPS-coated thermal paper is also widely used for printed tickets, boarding passes and luggage tags.