BPA levels in thermal paper remain a growing concern in 2016

Cashiers and customers may be exposed to harmful levels of an industrial chemical linked to disruptions in brain development and the endocrine system when they touch cash register receipts.

Traces of Bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, can be found in the coating of thermal paper used in most credit card receipts and ticket stubs for inkless printing. It can then be easily absorbed through the skin upon contact, according to a 2014 study at the University of Missouri.

In 2010, the Canadian government’s Chemicals Management Plan assessed and banned baby bottles containing BPA. The chemical, which is commonly used to harden plastics, was also added to Canada’s toxic substance list.

However, most products containing BPA, including thermal paper, are still on the market and the government remains idle on the issue as experts continue to study the risks.

In 2016, there continues to be debate over the health effects of current levels of BPA exposure.

Concerns continue to grow as more research is surfacing and, in Canada, the new federal government is receiving ongoing pressure to restrict BPA-laced products like thermal paper – much like the warnings Health Canada made in regard to plastics.

“As more research is done, evidence is mounting that this chemical is an even greater concern than we thought it was when we first banned it from baby bottles in Canada,” said Maggie MacDonald, toxic program manager for Environmental Defence, a Toronto-based environmental action organization.

“Originally when this chemical was first put into use, less was known about the impact of endocrine disrupting chemicals,” she said.

BPA was assessed for risk based on the assumption that a higher dose is more toxic and a lower dose less toxic, but, MacDonald said scientists have discovered that this is no longer the case.

“The response to certain substances is different at different levels,” she said. “So it is requiring that we take a second look at a lot of older chemicals.”

Health Canada said it is aware of BPA in thermal paper, but, based on current evidence, it doesn’t consider current exposure to be harmful to the general population.

“Health Canada continues to monitor the scientific literature on BPA, including studies related to thermal paper as a potential source of exposure, and will take further action to protect the health of Canadians, if required,” said Health Canada in an email statement.

MacDonald said she hopes the new federal government will move faster to regulate potentially harmful chemicals like BPA.

“I think the new government is not afraid to regulate. The pace of removing chemicals from the marketplace was just far too slow in the last 10 years,” she said.

Some companies have already moved to safer alternatives. Canada’s leading provider of point-of-sale and payment solutions, Moneris Solutions Corporation, now offers BPA-free paper rolls.

“While debates are taking place, and could for some time still, we see no harm in proactively taking the leap,” said Moneris via email.

In the meantime, while the government continues to assess BPA, MacDonald said public pressure is key to pushing more companies towards safer alternatives.

“I think as people learn about this more, there is more pressure and I do think that will influence companies to change,” she said.