BPA Absorbed From Cash Register Receipts, Study Finds

People who handled receipts coated with the controversial chemical BPA had the compound in their urine just a few hours afterwards, showing the compound soaks into the body through the hands, researchers reported Tuesday.

The chemical BPA on register receipts appears to soak into the skin, a new study finds. AP, file / AP, file

It’s not clear what that might mean for people’s health, however. The small study — just 24 people — showed 83 percent had the chemical in their bodies to start with. After handling the receipts bare-handed, all the volunteers did.

Most people are believed to get BPA through food that’s been stored in cans, bottles and other containers that are made using the compound. It's also used in some of the slick, thermal-activated cash register papers.

Dr. Shelley Ehrlich of Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and colleagues tested the 24 volunteers who provided urine samples before and after handling BPA-treated receipts.

“We observed an increase in urinary BPA concentrations after continuously handling receipts for two hours,” they wrote in a letter to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Some consumer groups have been battling to get BPA banned or discontinued, but federal agencies say there’s little or no evidence the chemical is hurting anyone. However, it is hard to tell, because it’s everywhere. Surveys by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found detectable levels of BPA in the urine of 93 percent of people six years and older.

So it would be very difficult to do a study comparing people who don’t have any BPA in their bodies with people who do. But in 2012 researchers found that kids with the most BPA in their bodies were more than twice as likely to be obese as kids with lower levels.

It’s also been linked with heart disease risk. What’s not clear is whether BPA is the cause, or whether it just shows up more in the bodies of people who eat more processed and packaged foods — which may contain more salt, sugar and fat and be less nutritious than fresh foods. Scientific evidence to date doesn't suggest that very low levels of human exposure are dangerous, the FDA says.

The agency does have advice for people worried about the chemical, noting that plastic containers with the recycle codes 3 or 7 may be made with BPA. So people can avoid those products if they want.