Bisphenol A (BPA) – What You Need to Know

Unassuming toxic chemicals surround our everyday lives and are absorbed into our bodies. One of these unassuming chemicals is Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is used in many applications, including on thermal cash register receipts. This is of great concern to retail workers, due to the high number of receipts that cashiers, clerks, and managers handle on a daily basis.

BPA is an endocrine disrupter. The endocrine system produces and secretes hormones that regulate the activity of cells and organisms in the body, and BPA can disrupt these cells and organisms, causing cancerous tumours, birth defects, and other developmental disorders.

Mary Shaw, a health and safety representative with UFCW Canada Locals 175 & 633, is shedding light on this toxic chemical found in everyday store and restaurant cash receipts. Ms. Shaw states that “any time we handle thermal receipt paper, the powder (containing BPA) comes off on our hands and is absorbed into our bodies.”

Dr. Frederick vom Saal, a professor at the University of Missouri, is a pioneer who first raised alarm about BPA almost three decades ago. He agrees with Ms. Shaw that thermal cash register receipts are one of the most significant sources of BPA exposure. Dr vom Saal says: “The link between BPA exposure and human disease is much stronger today than it was 10 years ago. In one study, we have evidence of BPA in people causing deaths in fetuses during in vitro fertilization.”

Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, two of Canada’s foremost environmental thinkers and leading experts on the health effects of toxic chemicals, are co-authors of the book Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxicity of Everyday Life Affects Our Health. They also agree with Ms. Shaw that thermal cash receipts are the most obvious source of BPA exposure.  

Some regulatory agencies claim that current BPA levels are safe, but they all refer to the average consumer’s exposure to food packaging containing BPA. These claims differ from UFCW Canada’s standpoint, as our focus is on the direct human contact to the BPA from thermal cash register receipts that can contain up to 1,000 times greater mass than the amount in a can of food.

Meanwhile, Health Canada has banned the use of BPA from baby bottles. The European Union, Brazil, and Sweden have also banned BPA in infant feeding products by following the “precautionary principle” due to the uncertainties raised in some studies. In the United States, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) withdrew regulatory approval for infant feeding products containing BPA, and companies like Rubbermaid have decided to remove BPA from all of their products.  

Experts agree that there is no safe amount of any endocrine disruptor for the human body to absorb, and that is why removing worker exposure to BPA is of paramount importance.