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Paper receipts contain BPA, pose health risks, MPCA says

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How often do you save the paper receipts you get when you buy something at the store?

The thermal paper that most receipts are printed on actually carries a health risk, and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is working with businesses to help them reduce their usage of that paper, WCCO reports.

Thermal paper is commonly used by vendors because ink is not required to print on it. The paper has large amounts of bisphenol A or BPA on its surface as a print developer.

BPA is also found in certain plastics and the coatings of food and drink cans, and its health effects have been a concern for the last few years. BPA is an endocrine disruptor which interferes with the body’s hormones.

According to a recent study conducted by the University of Missouri, BPA can be absorbed into your skin when you handle a receipt printed on thermal paper. And the absorption rate is even higher if you have lotion or hand sanitizer on your hands.

“Our research found that large amounts of BPA can be transferred to your hands, and then to the food you hold and eat as well as be absorbed through your skin,” the study's co-author Frederick S. vom Saal said.

The health risk is greater for cashiers and others who handle receipts frequently while they do their jobs.

Reducing exposure

The MPCA was awarded a federal grant to help businesses in Minnesota find alternatives to thermal paper and protect their employees from exposure. Right now the agency is working with two dozen businesses.

One of them is the Linden Hills Co-op in Minneapolis, which started offering customers the option of having their receipts emailed to them. The store also discourages employees from crumpling up receipts, to reduce contact with their skin, according to WCCO.

Thermal paper is used by stores, fast food restaurants, gas stations, ATMs and many other vendors.

How can you tell if it's thermal paper? According to the MPCA, thermal paper discolors easily when scratched with a coin or paper clip. Thermal receipt papers are quite thin, and often have a slick feel or sheen finish.

To minimize your risk of exposure, the MPCA recommends declining a receipt if you don't need one, or asking for an emailed version if the vendor offers one.

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