BPA’s Long Paper Trail

Environmental Science and Technology

A study published in Environmental Science and Technology in September 2011 found that the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) is more widespread in paper products than previously thought. The chemical first drew public concern for its use in plastic—particularly plastic baby bottles, teething rings and other toys and food and beverage containers designed for infants and young children. That news prompted a wave of state laws banning BPA in baby products or in all food and beverage containers in 2009.

Such laws do little to combat concerns about BPA directly entering the nation’s food supply via canned goods. Most canned food contains a resin liner made with BPA, and certain foods are particularly prone to the chemical leaching into it in high quantities, including chicken soup, ravioli and infant formula, according to tests by the Environmental Working Group. BPA is a known endocrine, or hormone, disruptor. The chemical mimics the sex hormone estradiol, altering hormone development particularly in infants in utero, which can increase risks for prostate and breast cancer, as well as raising risks for obesity, reproductive problems and behavioral and developmental problems.

It’s now known that the majority of us have detectable levels of BPA in our urine and it’s not only coming from our food supply. BPA has been found on cash register receipts, and, in the latest study, in 81% of other paper products studied including “flyers, tickets, mailing envelopes, newspapers, food contact papers, food cartons, airplane boarding passes, luggage tags, printing papers, business cars, napkins, paper towels and toilet paper.” Thermal receipt papers contained the highest levels of BPA, the study noted, and contributed to the majority of exposures, but BPA was nonetheless present in a large number of other products, mostly from having been contaminated via the recycling process. For the general population, the study found, the median daily intake of BPA would be 17.5 nanograms (ng)/day through dermal absorption (98% or more from receipts); for occupationally exposed individuals, median daily intake would be 1,300 ng/day.

While dietary intake is still the greatest health concern, cashiers and printers who are exposed daily to receipts and thermal-printed papers at a higher rate are also at high risk for excess exposure. Joseph Braun, PhD, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health has found that “pregnant women who worked as cashiers had BPA levels that were about 30% higher than pregnant women who had different kinds of jobs,” as reported by Medscape.com.