Bisphenol A otherwise known as (BPA) is a chemical compound used to make polycarbonate plastics, an industry which has recently been experiencing a heightened concern in society. An abundance of studies have concluded that heightened exposure of BPA has been related to the development of breast cancer, infertility, diabetes and other conditions related to an alteration in the functioning of one’s hormonal system. BPA has already been included in the ‘List of Substances of Very High Concern’ of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).
Controversy comes with the territory, since the results of the work are contradictory. When dealing with indirect effects (through the hormonal alteration) and effects that can be produced in the long term, it is more difficult to obtain evidence. It will probably take us years to know exactly what the risks are and at which point does BPA exposure begin to affect our health. In the meantime, it is preferable to apply precautionary legislation which restricts the use of bisphenol, especially in food products.
The industry is avidly searching for alternatives to bisphenol but this compound is still very much present in our lives, according to a study recently published in the journal of Environmental Research. Researchers analyzed 112 purchase receipts from Spain, France and Brazil, and detected 90% BPA on the receipts from Spain and Brazil and 50% on the tickets from France. The team took their research a step further and studied the extracts from these receipts and found that the receipts which contained BPA, contained anti-androgenic hormonal biological activity.
“They are easy to identify, for the user, as they are the receipts that lose the printed material over time and when you return the trousers you bought, the clerk tells you that you can’t see anything,” explains Nicolás Olea, researcher at the University of Granada. He went on to explain that many times the only thing you find is a fine white powder that comes off when you take them out of your wallet or purse. BPA is precisely that white powder that stains your fingers.
Taking into consideration the legislation (which is already strict with regard to food packaging), researchers recommend a number of precautionary measures: “for example, we should not mix tickets with food in the kitchen when unpacking the purchase, specifically with fish or meat. Nor should we play with them, or wrinkle them to throw them, write notes or keep them in the car, bag or purse,” says Olea. “We must, in short, handle this type of tickets as little as possible.
Keep an eye on the alternatives
One of the most popular options that is being pushed as an alternative to bisphenol A is bisphenol- S (BPS) which has a somewhat similar molecular structure but with a sulphur atom instead of a carbon atom. In France’s case, it appears that measures have already been taken into account in order to avoid the use of BPA in thermal receipt paper, as we can find BPS as the main compound in most of them.
As Olea has explained, the problem is that “BPS is also an endocrine disruptor, with greater environmental persistence and therefore cannot be a valid option”.In other words, the remedy could be worse than the disease.
While measures are being taken to deal with what could be a major public health problem, “ we must reject thermal paper receipts and demand the replacement of BPA in thermal paper, as it was promised in Spain for 2020, and has not been done by replacing it with thermal paper with BPS,” the expert concludes.
Reference: Molina-Molina et al. 2019. Determination of bisphenol A and bisphenol S concentrations and assessment of estrogen- and anti-androgen-like activities in thermal paper receipts from Brazil, France, and Spain. Environmental Research 170, 406-415
Photo: University of Granada