Dirty money: BPA on dollar bills

On Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Scientists have detected the chemical bisphenol A -- linked to reproductive troubles and other health problems -- on money. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Scientists have recently shown that bisphenol A, a chemical widely used in plastic bottles and in the linings of food cans that has been linked to cardiovascular disease, diabetes and sexual dysfunction in people and cancer in mice, is detectable in food and on some cash register receipts.

Now a study sponsored by health advocacy groups has also found BPA, as the chemical is known, on money.

Researchers working with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Washington Toxics Coalition collected store receipts from 20 states and Washington, D.C. and found that half of thermal receipts they tested were made with large quantities of “unbound” BPA, which can easily rub off on other items.

(Stores issuing receipts containing BPA included Safeway, Kroger and the Rayburn Café in the U.S. House of Representatives. Receipts collected from Costco, Wal-Mart, Trader Joe’s, Home Depot and the U.S. Senate’s Hart American Grill did not contain the chemical.)

Tests showed that holding a receipt for 10 seconds could transfer as much as 2.5 micrograms of the chemical onto human skin. And “testers transferred much higher amounts, about 15 times as much, by rubbing receipts,” the researchers reported.

The researchers suspected that if the chemical could rub off on fingers, it could also rub off on money stuffed into wallets next to BPA-laden receipts. To test that theory, they examined 22 dollar bills. They found BPA on 21 of them.

The amount of the chemical is small enough that it probably isn’t a major source of the BPA that winds up in people’s bodies, the report said, but its “near-ubiquitous presence … highlights the fact that BPA is escaping from products to contaminate other materials in unexpected ways.”

“Even a well-informed consumer can’t avoid exposure when contamination is so pervasive and constant,” the scientists wrote.

Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families and the Washington Toxics Coalition are pushing for updates to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which governs the use of chemicals in the United States.  According to the report, two bills currently in Congress would increase the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to curb the use of toxic chemicals,

In the meantime, scientists are still working to confirm conclusively that bisphenol A exposure is harmful to humans. In November, the World Health Organization recommended that public officials wait before setting up regulations limiting or banning BPA use until more is known about its health effects.

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