THE BLOG
05/13/2011 07:56 am ET | Updated Jul 13, 2011

Hold That Receipt, Thank You

You know that little slip of paper you shove into your purse, wallet or pocket many times during the day? The one you're handed when you buy your coffee, your lunch, your groceries, that new bathing suit, that bestseller, gas for your car, the pack of gum and the smoothie.

Well guess what? (And it's not good.)

That receipt is most likely covered with bisphenol A (BPA), a toxic substance that has been connected to all sorts of medical problems including interfering with brain development and increasing the risk of cancer.

This chemical coats many paper receipts and reacts with other chemicals and heat to develop the ink on the paper. Are you sitting down? The levels of BPA on those receipts are much higher than the ones found in canned food linings. BPA doesn't stay there either making it easy to be absorbed by anyone handling the paper.

Now I am thinking of all those teenagers with their summer jobs, the pregnant cashier at my supermarket, the cute clerk at the post office handling BPA credit card and cash receipts all day long, week in and week out. And if those young or old sales clerks have moist hands, or just applied some lotion to their dry skin, there is an increased level of absorption.

Believe it or not, we do have a law intended to protect us from toxic chemicals, but needless to say the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA) is grossly ineffective and long overdue for a major overhaul. Senator Frank Lautenberg has introduced legislation that would require chemicals like BPA, or the chemicals being used to replace it, to undergo toxicity testing before they are allowed into our everyday products. The new law would also give the Environmental Protection Agency more authority to remove chemicals from commerce once they are determined to be unsafe. Senator Diane Feinstein (and others) who have been working to ban BPA, which can also be found in everything from plastic baby bottles to baked beans. You wouldn't think this would be a tough task, but just ask Senator Feinstein, who shook her head in disbelief when I did ask her.

When BPA was first introduced in the late 1950s, maybe we didn't question the chemicals use in products that we ingest and touch. But what is the excuse today, fifty years later? What kind of cynical world are we living in that allows the chemical industry to continue to put toxic poisons in our baby bottles, our food cans, and our receipts? And a congress who ignores the research. And a group of shareholders that recently voted to continue using BPA in their soda can lining (thank you Coke's board of directors). One bright note of integrity, Kroger's supermarket chain just announced their plan to phase out the chemical in its store brand goods and check out receipts "as quickly as possible."

As for me, now that I know, I say "no thank you" to the receipt. But it makes me sick to see the clerk handle it anyway. I feel compelled to warn the unaware checkout person that if they are handling receipts all day long, they are likely being exposed to a toxic chemical, and they should ask their management for chemical free alternatives. I can tell you it makes for some very annoyed customers in line behind me but I don't care. After this piece runs, I plan on having lots of copies in my bag to hand over at the checkout counter. You should do that too.