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BPA sticker shock: people pick up chemical from sales receipts

Tucked neatly into the Bayer MaterialScience press kit that I picked up at last month's MD&M West 2014 event in Anaheim, CA, was a two-page backgrounder on Bisphenol A (BPA). The document summarizes various government research studies that support the chemical's safety in the human population. Bayer MaterialScience is a leading supplier of polycarbonate, so it's hard to argue altruism here, but its claim that "the overwhelming volume of scientific evidence supports the use of BPA in our manufacturing process and in our products" is sound.

New evidence that sows doubt in the court of public opinion, however, keeps being submitted. To wit: a study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association on February 26, 2014, documents human exposure to BPA through sales and ATM receipts printed on thermal paper.

For the study, a small cohort of participants handled receipts printed on thermal paper with and without gloves. Continuously handling the receipts without hand protection for two hours resulted in an increase in urinary BPA concentrations.

High doses of BPA, which is classified as an endocrine disruptor, have been associated with adverse effects on the reproductive function in adults and neurodevelopment in children. Although FDA considers current exposure levels to BPA to be safe for the general population—it released a new study just last month showing that rats fed low doses of BPA did not experience any adverse health effects—the agency banned use of the chemical in baby bottles and other products used by infants in 2012. Various groups continue to advocate for further restrictions.

The Bayer MaterialScience BPA backgrounder notes that FDA, the European Food Safety Authority, Japanese National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, and World Health Organization have repeatedly reviewed the data and reaffirmed that BPA is safe when used as intended. "BPA ranks among the most tested chemicals in commerce, having been the subject of over 5000 studies," according to the document.

Well, make that 5001. The health risks, however, remain conjectural, at best.

Norbert Sparrow

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