UFCW 175 activist helps raise awareness of danger posed by thermal-paper receipts

Mississauga, Ont. – February 25, 2019 – A UFCW Local 175 health and safety activist has helped raise awareness of the dangers posed by thermal-paper receipts, after her concerns about health risks associated with a chemical found in the receipts were confirmed by leading experts on toxic chemicals.

In 2017, Mary Shaw – a Health & Safety Representative for UFCW  Canada Local 175 – was contacted by a food retail member who was concerned about research they encountered regarding the exposure of cashiers to Bisphenol A (BPA) and a related substance, Bisphenol S (BPS), through the coatings on cash register receipts.

Shaw learned that when the paper for receipts runs through the cash register, a heat-transfer process creates the numbers on the receipt and allows for inkless printing. She then discovered that recent studies show this BPA can rub off on people’s hands and be absorbed through their skin. Additional research showed cashiers have significantly higher levels of BPA in their bodies than in the general population because of their constant handling of BPA-coated receipts, and that BPA can linger on a person’s hands throughout the work day.

After reading this disturbing research, Shaw contacted Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie, two of Canada’s foremost experts on the health effects of toxic chemicals. Smith and Lourie recently decided to test the level of BPA exposure from cash receipts by conducting an experiment with their colleagues at Environmental Defence. As part of the experiment, the group took pre-test urine samples then went and gathered receipts from different retailers. After collecting the receipts, the participants passed them around for a 15-minute period. Because there is some evidence that wet fingers increase BPA/BPS absorption through the skin, two of the participants had moist fingers while conducting the experiment.

The group waited eight hours to let the BPA and BPS be absorbed by their bodies, then each of them took a second urine sample. They shipped the samples to a research lab and awaited the results. The lab results revealed huge increases in the levels of these chemicals in each of the participant’s bodies. Worryingly, the participant with the highest level of BPA in their blood stream used hand sanitizer during the experiment – a finding that is concerning for cashiers who use hand sanitizer throughout their work day.

Now that BPA is popping in unanticipated places like cash receipts, say Smith and Lourie, it’s time to take a closer look at how we can eliminate harmful chemicals from our everyday lives.

In response to the concerns raised by Shaw, Smith, and Lourie, UFCW has developed a BPA backgrounder for members and their families. To learn more about this resource, click here.