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How thermal receipts are hazardous to environment and human health?

12:22 PM May 11, 2023 IST | Ground report
how thermal receipts are hazardous to environment and human health

In today's world, we all strive to reduce our carbon footprint and protect the environment. However, some of the most common items we use every day can be more harmful than we think. One of those elements is the thermal receipt that we receive after making a purchase.

The glossy coating on thermal receipts is made up of bisphenol-A (BPA) and bisphenol-S (BPS), chemicals known to be harmful to human health and the environment. When we handle these receipts, we unknowingly absorb these toxic chemicals through our skin and into our bloodstream. Over time, this can lead to serious health problems, including reproductive disorders, diabetes, and even cancer.

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BPA is a chemical commonly used in the production of plastics and resins, including thermal paper coatings. When a thermal receipt is printed, the heat causes the BPA coating to react and create the text or image on the paper. However, this reaction also releases free BPA molecules into the air and onto the hands of the receipt handler.

Studies have shown that prolonged or repeated exposure to BPA can have negative health effects, including endocrine disruption, reproductive harm, and developmental problems. In fact, the European Union and some states in the US have banned the use of BPA in certain products, such as baby bottles and sippy cups, due to safety concerns.

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BPA exposure through thermal paper

A 2014 study by Annette M. Hormann et al. at the University of Missouri found that saving receipts on thermal paper immediately after using hand sanitizer can lead to a rapid increase in unconjugated (bioactive) BPA in serum and urine. The study also found that a combination of dermal and oral absorption of BPA can occur, which can have negative health effects.

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Another study conducted in 2015 by Shelley Ehrlich et al. at Harvard University of Public Health found that handling thermal receipts without gloves for two hours can lead to an increase in the concentration of BPA in urine. However, when gloves were used, no increase in BPA was observed. This suggests that limiting direct skin contact with thermal receipts may help reduce BPA exposure.

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In addition to being dangerous to human health, thermal receipts can also be harmful to the environment. When thermal receipts are disposed of, they can leach BPA and other chemicals into the soil and waterways, leading to negative environmental impacts.

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Dangers of Thermal Paper Receipts

A 2013 study by researchers at Kannur University found that thermal paper receipts used at local ATMs in India can produce estrogen-like hormonal effects in experimental systems. The study also found that large amounts of receipts being dumped into the environment can lead to large amounts of hormone disruptors being deposited in the environment. The study proposed the use of laccase purified from asomycete fungi as a corrective measure to eliminate the estrogenic properties of thermal paper.

In 2012, Tinne Geens et al. estimated BPA levels in thermal paper receipts collected in Belgium and their exposure to humans. The study found that BPA was present in 73% of the total samples, with concentrations between 0.9% and 2.1%.

The study also examined whether frequent contact with thermal paper is associated with increased urinary excretion of BPA. Urine samples were collected from 90 cashiers who handle BPA receipts on a daily basis and 44 control samples. BPA was detected in all the samples, observing a significant increase in the total concentration of BPA in the urine in the ATMs.

These studies demonstrate the potential dangers of thermal paper receipts and the need for further research into the effects of BPA on human health. Experts recommend taking precautionary measures such as wearing gloves or avoiding direct contact with thermal paper receipts to minimize exposure to this harmful chemical.

So what should you do to reduce your exposure? 

  • Please note that thermal paper easily discolors when scratched with a coin or paper clip.
  • Do not accept receipts whenever possible.
  • Go with an electronic receipt via email or text. This is an increasingly available option at many retailers.
  • If you must handle a receipt, try touching only the non-shiny back. Contains much less BPA.
  • Save your receipts carefully. If a receipt is absolutely necessary, place it in an envelope. Your BPA will rub off on everything: your hands, pocket, wallet or purse, even the folded money in your wallet.
  • Wash your hands quickly after handling a receipt. Scrub with soap and water. If you wait more than four minutes, it's too late.
  • Wear latex gloves if your job requires frequent handling of receipts.
  • Do not use hand sanitizer after touching a possible thermal receipt.

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