EarthTalk: Is it true that Bisphenol A (BPA)—which
is harmful to human health—was found to be present
in retail cash register receipts and that, since those receipts
get recycled, the chemical may also be present in toilet
paper and other paper products?
—Jocelyn Mitchell, via e-mail
tests found high levels of BPA on 40 percent of
thermal paper receipts sampled from major U.S. businesses
of us already know the risks associated with regular use
of products containing the plastic hardener and synthetic
estrogen Bisphenol A (BPA)—and have switched over
to BPA-free water and baby bottles and food storage containers.
But the recent revelation that many of the receipts handed
around every day in the U.S. contain the chemical has been
a real shocker to those already worried about BPA exposure.
thermal papers used in the U.S.—receipts, event tickets,
labels—contain so-called “free” BPA (that
is, not bound into resin or plastic), which helps “develop”
the inks to make the printed information visible. “While
there is little concern for dermal absorption of BPA, free
BPA can readily be transferred to skin and residues on hands
can be ingested,” reports the U.S. Environmental Protection
tests commissioned by the non-profit Environmental Working
Group (EWG) and carried out by the University of Missouri
Division of Biological Sciences Laboratory in 2010 found
high levels of BPA on 40 percent of receipts sampled from
major U.S. businesses and services, including McDonald’s,
Chevron, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, WalMart, Safeway and the
U.S. Postal Service, among others.
total amounts of BPA on receipts tested were 250 to 1,000
times greater than other, more widely discussed sources
of BPA exposure, including canned foods, baby bottles and
infant formula,” reported EWG. Wipe tests conducted
by the lab easily removed BPA “indicating that the
chemical could rub off on the hands of a person handling
BPA contamination of food is still a bigger problem, says
EWG, a large number of Americans—especially the seven
million who run cash registers—are nonetheless exposed
to additional amounts of BPA through handling receipts.
An EWG analysis of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention data found that retail workers carry an average
of 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than other adults.
more exhaustive study of BPA in thermal paper receipts and
14 other types of papers found the chemical in a whopping
94 percent of samples from the U.S., Japan, Korea and Vietnam.
The State University of New York researchers behind the
study, which was published in September 2011 in the peer-reviewed
journal Environmental Science & Technology, estimate
that receipts and other thermal paper products contribute
around 33.5 tons of BPA to the environment in the U.S. and
Canada each year. Even more disturbing was their finding
that BPA in thermal paper receipts also contaminates paper
recycling and is showing up in napkins, toilet paper and
other common papers with recycled content.
a more encouraging note, Wisconsin’s Appleton Papers,
the world’s largest thermal paper maker, removed BPA
from its products in 2006. And the EPA has since launched
a program to evaluate the safety and availability of alternatives
to BPA in thermal paper. Public health advocates and environmentalists,
of course, would like to see BPA phased out entirely.
Occurrence of Bisphenol A in Paper and Paper Products: Implications
for Human Exposure,” Environmental Science &
EarthTalk: What are the environmental implications
of the road ahead as laid out by President Obama in his
recent State of the Union?
—Marilyn Pike, Bethesda, MD
State of the Union address was, in the words of
one prominent green leader, "a strong defense
of the importance of clean energy to America’s
long-term economic prosperity."
© Pete Souza/White House photo
The economy dominated
President Obama’s recent State of the Union address,
but his discussion about energy and the environment took
up almost seven minutes—or nine percent—of the
hour-plus address. And while much of what Mr. Obama said
was comforting to environmentalists, his statements about
expanding natural gas production—albeit “without
putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk”—and
opening up more than 75 percent of our potential offshore
oil and gas resources did not sit well.
Even so, natural
gas is cleaner burning than oil or coal, and reducing our
reliance on foreign oil is a good thing overall. “Right
now American oil production is the highest that it’s
been in eight years,” Mr. Obama said, adding that
“…last year we relied less on foreign oil than
in any of the past 16 years.”
Michelle Wilson Berger of the National Audubon Society points
out that when George W. Bush told us in his 2006 State of
the Union that the U.S. was addicted to foreign oil, some
60 percent was coming from foreign sources. “Now it’s
just less than half,” Berger says, adding: “The
trend is going to continue in that positive direction and
within a couple decades, it’s going to be even less,
say something like 36 percent.”
environmental advocates were hoping for less bullish talk
from Obama on expanding fossil fuel development of any kind,
given the dire climate predictions we are facing. But Obama
isn’t giving up his commitment to renewables, despite
the recent bankruptcy of solar panel maker Solyndra after
it had received upwards of $500 million in loan guarantees.
“Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies
fail,” stated Obama in the speech. “But I will
not walk away from the promise of clean energy.”
Obama also called
on Congress to pass a new standard aimed at boosting wind,
solar, geothermal and other renewables, and to extend related
tax credits to help diversify and green the country’s
energy mix, adding that he wants to end tax subsidies for
oil companies. In underscoring that Americans don’t
have to choose between the economy and the environment,
he cited the case of the revival of the American auto industry
thanks in part to automakers’ willingness to innovate
to meet aggressive fuel economy standards.
Fred Krupp of
the Environmental Defense Fund considers Obama’s State
of the Union “a strong defense of the importance of
clean energy to America’s long-term economic prosperity.”
2011 wasn’t a bad year for Obama on the environment.
He proposed raising the average fuel efficiency standard
for new cars to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025—this
alone, says Natural Resources Defense Council’s Frances
Beinecke, “will save drivers more than $80 billion
a year at the pump and cut our annual oil use by more than
the amount we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010.”
Obama’s recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline
project—which would have transported dirty Alberta
tar sands oil across U.S. soil—was another triumph,
as were establishing the first national standards to limit
mercury and other air toxins from power plants, proposing
a visionary national oceans policy, protecting the Grand
Canyon from uranium mining, and supporting clean energy
investments at record levels.
House State of the Union 2012.