Illinois bans harmful chemical in receipts

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The state of Illinois passed House Bill 2076 Thursday banning BPA in paper.

Bisphenol A is found in many everyday plastic products like bottles, containers, plates and food storage. It’s also found in thermal paper used for some receipts from grocery stores, movie theaters and ATMs.

The bill "Prohibits the manufacture, distribution, or use of paper containing bisphenol A for the making of business or banking records. Requires paper manufacturers to, among other things, replace bisphenol A with an alternative chemical."

By January 2020, your everyday errands will no longer be interrupted by possible endocrine disruptors.

State Senator Ann Gillespie supported the bill to ban thermal paper coated with BPA. The chemical is allegedly used to assist with customizations for customers.

Gillespie and other environmental professionals say BPA can be found on thermal paper that is smooth, almost shiny or with a sheen and coated to the touch.

“One of the ways it gets activated is with moisture,” she said. “As cash registers clerks are scanning fruits and veggies and their hands are getting wet and their hands are touching these receipts.  They are absorbing chemicals coming off of that on a daily basis.”

It is not present on every receipt.

“We are seeing less of it in Illinois as we go forward, but it’s still there,”  Gillespie said. “We want to make sure folks don’t go back to it or start using it again.”

The Sierra Club, an environmental leader for 60 years in Illinois, is in favor of the bill too.

“About 80% of receipts no longer contain BPA,” Sierra Club’s Jack Darin said. ”That’s great and shows there are readily available alternatives. But about 1 in 5 receipts may still contain this chemical. … Unfortunately, we may be buying safe products to bring home to our kids, but the receipt for the purchase may contain the very chemical we are trying to avoid.”

The Illinois EPA supports the ban, but in a statement admits, “no scientific consensus exists on the human health threat posed by BPA in thermal paper. Federal studies continue and more might be released this fall.”

Both Gillespie and Darin are in favor of the ban and suggest pregnant women, in particular, should avoid thermal paper while carrying a baby.

Dr. Susan Buchanan, an associate professor at the University of Illinois - Chicago Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, isn’t going that far but remains in favor of the ban too.

“If you touch it, it does cross the skin so it can get into the bloodstream that way,” she said.

Buchanan believes there is an even bigger worry.

“Thermal paper is not the number one source of exposure to BPA. It is food can linings.”

Especially cans with acidic products sealed inside-like canned tomatoes or tomato sauce. She says a developing fetus and small children are most at risk.

“BPA crosses the placenta and can affect the developing brain,” she said. “They are still developing neurologically. Sex organs are still developing, so they are at high risk.”

Workers handling receipts behind the register daily are also at risk.

BPS, a similar chemical to BPA, is also on the radar of environmentalists watching the consumer marketplace.

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