December 8th, 2010
12:01 AM ET
A new report says Bisphenol A (BPA), the controversial hormone disrupting chemical widely used in plastics, is turning up in an unlikely place–the money in your wallet.
Researchers suggest that BPA is rubbing off cashier receipts and onto bills, according to a report titled "On The Money: BPA on Dollar Bills and Receipts," published by the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, and the Washington Toxics Coalition (WTC).
Ericka Schreder, a staff Scientist with WTC and author of the report, says lab tests confirm the chemical rubs off receipts onto the skin after holding it for just 10 seconds. WTC researchers first tested 22 thermal paper receipts collected from businesses in 10 states and the District of Columbia. Half contained higher than trace amounts of BPA. They also tested 22 $1 bills and found BPA on 21 of them. Schreder says contamination most likely occurs once receipts come in contact with money in places like wallets and cash register drawers.
"Levels on dollar bills were lower than on receipts, but the fact that our currency is contaminated with a hormone-disrupting chemical illustrates how our current chemical law is failing us," Schreder says. "Even the most careful consumer can't avoid BPA when it's so pervasive that it even contaminates money."
But Kathryn St. John, a BPA specialist at the American Chemistry Council says while some receipts made from thermal paper can have low levels of BPA, research shows it's safe.
"To the limited extent BPA is absorbed through the skin, it is converted to a biologically inactive metabolite that is rapidly eliminated from the body," St. John said. "Biomonitoring data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that consumer exposure to BPA, which would include any exposure from receipts, is extremely low. Typical exposure from all sources is about 1,000 times below safe intake levels set by government bodies in Europe and the U.S. In comparison, the trace levels of BPA claimed to be present in dollar bills are insignificant."
In July, The Environmental Working Group released a similar study about BPA and cash register receipts. EWG researchers tested 36 and found 40 percent had high levels of the chemical.
Environmental groups and public health advocates have linked BPA to a number of serious health problems including cancer, diabetes, infertility, early puberty and heart disease. According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 93 percent of urine samples from people over the age of 6 have detectable levels of BPA, but research linking some health problems—particularly in adults–to the chemical has been inconclusive. Still, earlier this year the FDA said recent studies "provide reason for some concern about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland of fetuses, infants and children."
Schreder says with the growing body of evidence, it's clear reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA)–which gives the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the authority to regulate chemicals–should be a priority.
"We need to update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act with a new chemical law that both requires companies to provide health information on chemicals they produce and ensures that chemicals that can cause cancer, infertility, and other health problems can't be used in everyday products."
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