By Steve Milloy
October 27, 2010 GreenHellBlog
A new study from Sweden reports that “cash receipts could be a major source of exposure to the long-used but newly controversial chemical bisphenol A (BPA).”
Study author Tomas Östberg of the Swedish Jegrelius Institute reported in early October that receipts he analyzed contained an average of around 1.4 percent BPA. Östberg then leapt to the conclusion that, “Because there is a risk that this may be a health hazard, the use of thermal paper that contains bisphenol A should be minimized.” News of the study was picked up by European media, including the Stuttgarter Zeitung (Oct. 16), which advised readers in a headline to “Steer clear of receipts.”
Östberg’s study, however, is a long way from constituting evidence that cash receipts present any sort of risk to workers or consumers.
First, as Östberg obliquely admits, it is not at all certain that BPA presents any sort of health risk at all, even if it is present in receipts, albeit to a very small degree. It is important to keep in mind that BPA has been used commercially for more than 50 years, and despite all that use and exposure, there are no published scientific studies or reports of workers or consumers being actually harmed by BPA.
Though BPA has become the subject of much controversy recently, that has mainly been due to unsubstantiated claims of BPA being a so-called “endocrine disrupter” at low doses. None of these claims have been verified, validated or vindicated and only continue to resound because of constant repetition by anti-chemical activist groups and a sympathetic-to-ignorant news media. Both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Food Safety Authority deem BPA to be perfectly safe at existing exposure levels.
Östberg’s study merely exploits the ongoing BPA controversy by reporting the presence of BPA in receipts — as if the existence of controversy makes BPA’s presence in receipts dangerous.
Östberg fails to mention two recent studies that essentially debunk his own. It’s not important that receipts contain BPA so much as how much of the BPA is typically absorbed from handling them.
A June 2010 study published in the journal Annals of Bioanalysis and Chemistry by Swiss food regulators reported that a person repeatedly touching thermal printer paper for 10 hours/day, such as at a cash register, would absorb 42 times less BPA than permitted by current safety regulations, which already have a very significant margin of safety. No workers or consumers would normally be exposed to even such infinitesimal amounts.
A February 2010 study from the University of Zurich’s Centre for Xenobiotic Risk Research reported that, “Dermal absorption (that is, absorption through the skin), is therefore at most a secondary absorption route for bisphenol A. The primary absorption route is still dietary intake. For this route, daily total amounts of bisphenol A around 10,000 times higher are considered harmless for adults.”
What can we conclude from these scientific studies? It is quite clear that the BPA-in-receipts controversy is just another scare contrived by anti-chemical activists.
But why not simply short-circuit the controversy and replace BPA with another chemical as some have tried with so-called “BPA-free” receipts?
Aside from the fact that BPA-free receipts are more expensive, while providing no discernible health or safety benefits, there is the issue of allowing anti-chemical activists to get away with using junk science and fear to smear a perfectly safe technology. Few chemicals have been as heavily scrutinized as BPA, after all, and still there is no direct evidence indicating it poses any risk to health whatsoever.
BPA is a test case for the activists. If they get away with establishing vanishingly small exposures to BPA as a health hazard, they will use the precedent to systematically eliminate other beneficial chemicals from society on an arbitrary basis. In the US, class action lawsuits involving BPA asking for billions of dollars in compensatory damages have already been filed.
Chemicals have helped give western society the highest and healthiest standard of living it has ever enjoyed. We have regulatory systems that ensure these chemicals are used safely. Those proven safeguards should not be abandoned in favor of wild allegations from irresponsible activists whose agenda is not to educate the public, but to cause maximal alarm and fear, to undermine public confidence in the regulatory process — and to make money for themselves.
Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com and is the author of “Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them” (Regnery 2009).
For more debunking of BPA scares, please visit JunkScience.com’s Debunkosaurus.