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First research announced that connects BPA and thermal receipts

The first research that directly correlates high levels of bisphenol A (BPA) in the urine of people that handle thermal paper printed receipts repeatedly was presented by Dr. Shelley Ehrlich of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and colleagues in the Feb. 25, 2014, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Nalgene brand water bottles at an outdoor supply store on April 16, 2008 in Arcadia, California. The Nalgene brand water bottles are made with the controversial carbonate plastic (BPA).
Photo by David McNew/Getty Images
A receipt printed on thermal paper. As a demonstration of principle, a heat source (in this case, a lighter) is held near the paper, so it darkens.
Tijmen Stam This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

The researchers examined the BPA content of the urine of 24 volunteers before and after handling receipts printed on thermal paper for a period of two hours. The participants handled the receipts with and without rubber gloves in two separate trials. The BPA content of the participant’s urine was found to continually increase over time in the participants that did not wear gloves. The BPA content of the participants that wore gloves did not change.

Thermal receipt paper is ubiquitous in modern life. People are exposed to thermal receipt paper in shopping, at ATMs, gas stations, and in the workplace. The average cashier handles thermal receipts about 40 hours per week according to the researchers.

BPA is a constituent of the paper that is used in thermal receipt printers. Free BPA may be released due to the heating of the paper during printing that could potentially break the chemical bonds between the BPA and the other chemicals in the paper.

BPA has been linked to a number of serious health concerns including birth defects and the disruption of reproductive function in adults.

A temporary fix is a legal requirement that all people that regularly handle thermal printed receipts wear rubber gloves to prevent exposure. A permanent solution is a reformulation of thermal paper without BPA.