Receipts aren’t cancerous despite the claims

The Tweet: “Receipts from restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores all contain high amounts of cancer inducing BPA.”

The evidence supporting claims that BPA contamination in food, packaging and in some cases receipts poses a health risk to humans is ambiguous and in many cases misleading. Trying to find consistent research on the topic is almost impossible. This tweet is based on claims made in a report published on the Environmental Working Group website in 2010, and then subsequently in the journal Green Chemistry Letters and Reviews.

BPA is an organic compound found in plastics and resins sometimes used in food packaging, and in some cases as a dye on receipt paper. BPA can find its way into food where it is used in food packaging, raising concerns about possible health risks.

BPA contamination has been the subject of investigations into obesity, neurological effects, cancer, fertility, asthma and heart disease among others. Research into BPA contamination is frequently influenced by politics, making it difficult to find objective research and further highlighting the need for meta-analyses to assess large amounts of research.

This particular piece of research by Warner, first published on the EWG website was then published the next day in a peer-reviewed journal about Green Chemistry for which Warner is the Editor. Warner is even the founder of the field Green Chemistry calling into question his interest in the research.

The report claims that ‘BPA COATS CASH REGISTER RECEIPTS’, and receipts from gas stations and convenience stores are ‘laden’ with the chemical. This is based on only 36 receipts collected across the US. Of these 36, the researchers claim that only 2 were BPA-free. Although 14 of the 36 receipts contained less that 0.003 per cent BPA.

The Food and Drug Administration in the US and the European Food Safety Authority, among other international food standards organisations have extensively researched the effects of BPA to determine a safe level of the chemical in food. As of July 2014, the FDA declared that ‘BPA is safe at the current levels occurring in foods’, having found no evidence that the chemical was risking people’s health at current levels. Equally, the EFSA reviewed scientific literature in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2015, each time concluding it found no evidence that the current safe level for exposure set by the EFSA of 50 ng/kg/day should be revised.

A study conducted in 2012 by researchers at the University of Antwerp estimated human contact with thermal paper results in an exposure of 6.4 ng/kg/day for a person of 70 kg. This is well below the current safe level set by the EFSA of 50 ng/kg/day. However, they warned that occupational contact with receipts may result in higher exposure levels.

It is very difficult to find comprehensive research on the effects of BPA with so many studies contradicting each other and so much being published by researchers all over the web. It’s also difficult to know who to listen to with the subject heavily interested by pharmaceutical and food conglomerates, and green activism groups. That being said the safest advice probably comes from the FDA and EFSA and other equivalent international organisations who regularly assess the scientific literature, and who to date have not revised the current safe levels.

Image: ben_osteen/ Flickr

This post was first published on The Untweetable Truth (12/03/2014)

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