Does Bisphenol A (BPA) Lurk In Your Wallet?

dangerous chemicals in walletsThe primary sources of human exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) are not well characterized. Especially little is known about the presence of BPA in paper products, such as paper currencies, and its implications for human exposure.

In a recent study, paper currencies from 21 countries were analyzed for BPA. The chemical was found in all paper currencies analyzed.

According to the study:

"We also examined the transfer of BPA from thermal receipt paper to currencies by placing currencies in contact with thermal receipt papers for 24 [hours] in a wallet. Concentrations of BPA dramatically increased after 24 [hours] of contact with thermal receipt papers, suggesting that thermal receipt paper is a major source of BPA in paper currencies."

BPA is ordinarily associated more so with plastic than paper, and the elimination of the chemical BPA from plastic food and beverage packaging has given many people a sense of security. But new research suggests that a BPA-free label doesn't mean a product is harmless.

Scientists conducted lab tests on more than 450 plastic food and beverage-packages and over 20 top-brand baby bottles, and found that virtually all of them still leached chemicals that acted like the hormone estrogen, even though many were free of BPA

Discovery News reports:

"The new study, along with other work, suggests that the public's attention on BPA has been misguided. It now looks like there are thousands of possible chemicals in all sorts of plastics that act just like BPA. Called endocrine disruptors, these chemicals falsely tell the body's cells that the hormone estrogen is around, potentially causing all sorts of troubling developmental and reproductive consequences."

Dr. Mercola's Comments:

BPA or bisphenol A is an endocrine-disrupting chemical typically associated with plastic products, as it's widely known to leach into food or drinks from the plastic containers holding them. However, plastic water bottles and food containers are NOT the only routes of exposure; as new research has shown, paper may be another BPA source you need to be aware of.

You May be Absorbing BPA When You Handle Money, Receipts

A new study published in Environmental Science and Technology clearly shows that BPA is a concern in far more ways than your plastic food and beverage containers. The researchers analyzed paper currencies from 21 countries for the presence of BPA, and the chemical was detected in every sample. They also measured the transfer of BPA from thermal receipt paper to currency by placing the two together in a wallet for 24 hours. This dramatically increased the concentrations of BPA on the money, which suggests that receipts are highly contaminated.

The researchers estimated that you could be absorbing a few nanograms of BPA every day just from handling paper currency! This builds on prior research that also revealed thermal printer paper could be a dangerous source of BPA:

  • A study in Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry found that of 13 thermal printing papers (the type often used for receipts) analyzed, 11 contained BPA. Holding the paper for just 5 seconds was enough to transfer BPA onto a person's skin, and the amount of BPA transferred increased by about 10 times if the fingers were wet or greasy.
  • A study commissioned by Environmental Working Group (EWG) detected BPA on 40 percent of receipts they tested from gas stations, supermarkets and other common retail outlets. According to EWG, "the total mass of BPA on a receipt is 250 to 1,000 times greater than the amount of BPA typically found in a can of food or a can of baby formula."

What this means is that this toxic chemical is clearly all around us. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a cash-register receipt or a dollar bill could be exposing you to toxins.

At this time it's unclear how much of your body burden of BPA is coming from these paper sources, but it would be wise to seek to limit or avoid carrying receipts in your wallet or purse, as it appears the chemical is transferring onto other surfaces it touches. It would also be wise to wash your hands after handling receipts and currency, and avoid handling them particularly if you've just put lotion or any other greasy substance on your hands, as this may increase your exposure.

Even BPA-Free Plastic is Not Always Safe

There has been enough negative press about BPA that the public has been demanding safer, BPA-free alternatives -- and corporations have been responding. Certain manufacturers, including Philips Avent, Disney First Years, Gerber, Dr. Brown, Playtex and Evenflow, have said they will stop making baby bottles that contain BPA, while several major retailers, including CVS, Kmart, Walmart, Toys R Us and Babies R Us are removing BPA-containing products from their stores.

Unfortunately, just because a product is labeled "BPA-Free" it is not a guarantee that you are not ingesting this toxic plastic by-product. It turns out that tests on plastics using this label have not been conducted under real-world conditions like running the plastics through a dishwasher or heating them in a microwave.

In the "real-world," 95 percent of all plastic products tested positive for estrogenic activity, meaning they can still disrupt your hormones even if they carry a BPA-Free label. Even more disconcerting is the finding that BPA-Free plastics in some cases leached more BPA than the non-BPA free plastics.

Does this mean there is no safe plastic when it comes to storing or serving your food or drinks? In a word, yes, that's what it means. You even have to be careful about switching to metal water bottles in lieu of plastic ones, as some may contain epoxy liners that contain BPA.

Why BPA is a Chemical Worth Avoiding

Remember that BPA is an endocrine disrupter, which means it mimics or interferes with your body's hormones and "disrupts" your endocrine system. The glands of your endocrine system and the hormones they release are instrumental in regulating mood, growth and development, tissue function, metabolism, as well as sexual function and reproductive processes.

Chemicals like BPA can exert their effects by:

  • Mimicking the biological activity of your hormones by binding to a cellular receptor. This can initiate your cell's normal response to the naturally occurring hormone at the wrong time or to an excessive extent (agonistic effect).
  • Binding to the receptor but not activating it. Instead the presence of the chemical on the receptor prevents binding of the natural hormone (antagonistic effect).
  • Binding to transport proteins in your blood, thus altering the amounts of natural hormones that are present in your blood circulation.
  • Interfering with the metabolic processes in your body, affecting the synthesis or breakdown rates of your natural hormones.

Some of the greatest concern surrounds early-life, in utero exposure to BPA, which can lead to chromosomal errors in your developing fetus, causing spontaneous miscarriages and genetic damage. But evidence is also very strong showing these chemicals are influencing adults and children, too, and leading to decreased sperm quality, early puberty, stimulation of mammary gland development, disrupted reproductive cycles and ovarian dysfunction, among numerous other health problems, like cancer and heart disease, as well.

Exposure to environmental chemicals like BPA has also led to bizarre changes in a number of wildlife species, such as intersex fish, frogs developing a variety of defects like multiple testes or ovaries, and hermaphrodite bears, just to name a few.

Unfortunately, as one of the world's highest production-volume chemicals, BPA has been found in 90 percent of all people tested in the United States and is commonly found in the umbilical cords of babies in utero.

What You Can do to Avoid BPA

Many people are aware that BPA is found in certain plastics, such as:

  • Baby toys, bottles, pacifiers, and sippy cups
  • Plastic microwavable plates, ovenware, and utensils
  • Plastic gallon milk bottles
  • Plastic water bottles

… but you may not be aware of the lesser known sources, such as:

  • Tooth sealants
  • Canned foods and soda cans (most have plastic lining in the cans)
  • Receipts
  • Currency
  • Certain BPA-free plastics (which can contain similar endocrine-disrupting chemicals)

Avoiding these items is an important step to limit your BPA exposure, as these sources will add up over time. So any time you can choose a food packaged in glass rather than a can or plastic, you should s so. Likewise, get rid of your plastic dishes and cups, and replace them with glass alternatives, and give your baby natural fabric toys instead of plastic ones.

I also recommend that you support the companies that are moving in the right direction by removing this chemical from their products, as complete removal from consumer goods is necessary to protect public health and the environment.