Millions of People Exposed to Bisphenols While Shopping Every Day
By Leah Segedie
It seems like such a simple thing, but the act of signing and handling a receipt can increase the amount of hormone disrupting chemicals bisphenol-A (BPA) or bisphenol-S (BPS) inside your body significantly. And this is problematic if you are trying to lose weight, wanting to have calm and intelligent children one day, suffering from anxiety, depression, inflammation or food sensitivities or wanting to avoid cancers. Bisphenols (BPA & BPS) have the ability to hijack your hormonal systems at very small levels, so what are they doing in thermal receipt paper and how are they getting into our bodies? That answer is complicated but here we go!
About 9 out of 10 retail stores are using thermal receipt paper that is coated with bisphenol powder and it reacts with heat and friction to create the ink you see. This is incredibly problematic because it's in powder form and easily gets on to your hands when you are signing and handling receipts. Then within seconds it can get into your bloodstream. This wouldn't be a big deal if we were talking about something like alcohol, which is inside antibacterial gels because dose equals the poison. But bisphenols have demonstrated through studies that smaller amounts can cause damage to the hormonal system and therefore that rule doesn't work to protect the public. In fact, it's estimated that the amount of bisphenols you are exposed to when handling thermal receipt paper is up to 1000x more potent than the exposure from canned food. For this very reason, the handling of thermal receipt paper is a very relevant public health concern that retailers need to get a handle on to protect their customers and workers.
So what are they doing about it? Well, not much. Why? There isn't enough public pressure yet.
National Stores Guilty of Contaminating Customers with Bisphenols in Receipts
Earlier this year the Ecology Center took samples of thermal receipt papers at national stores and had them tested in a lab. The results were shocking. It's true that most brands had reformulated to BPA-free thermal receipt paper, but what they used instead is an equally problematic chemical called bisphenol-S (BPS), which is part of the bisphenol family. So instead of solving the problem by using green chemistry the way the consumer wants, they are switching out a similar chemical and hoping no one notices. This type of sly marketing behavior is common. Independent scientists refer to this as a "regrettable substitution" where they use a very similar sister chemical in order to give themselves a marketing benefit, but the same problem remains. If the public was expecting them to use a safer chemical, they will be disappointed because that is not what has happened. Although BPS is a younger chemical with less studies to back it's danger, the studies that have been done on it so far are pointing to it being just as bad or possibly worse than BPA. Therefore, when these brands say they are using "BPA-Free" thermal receipt paper, they are really trying to shut the conversation down by making you think they solved your problem. But they haven't. They didn't solve the problem. They sidestepped you and hoped you wouldn't notice. Sneaky, right?
Here are the results from some of the most popular national brands tested and what was inside their thermal receipt paper in powder form:
- 7 Eleven: BPA
- Aldi: BPA
- Arby's: BPS
- Baja Fresh: BPS
- Barnes & Noble: BPS
- Bed, Bath & Beyond: BPS
- Ben & Jerry's: BPA
- Best Buy: NO BISPHENOLS
- Burger King: BPS
- Chase Bank: BPS
- Chipotle: BPS
- Chuck E Cheese: BPS
- Claire's: BPS
- Coldstone Creamery: BPA
- Costco: BPS
- CVS: BPS
- Dominos: BPA
- DSW: BPS
- Family Dollar: BPS
- Great Clips: BPS
- Home Depot: BPS
- Home Goods: BPS
- Justice: BPA
- Kroger: BPS
- Little Caesars: BPS
- Lowes: BPS
- McDonald's: BPS
- Meijer: BPS
- Michael's: BPS
- Panda Express: BPS
- Panera Bread: BPS
- Petco: BPS
- Pet Smart: BPS
- PNC Bank: BPS
- Rite Aid: BPS
- Sally Beauty: BPS
- Sears: BPS
- Shell Gas Station: BPS
- Staples: BPS
- Starbucks: BPS
- Subway: BPS
- Target: BPS
- Trader Joes: BPS (Note: Trader Joes is vowing to remove bisphenols by end of 2018)
- Salvation Army: BPS
- Toys R Us: BPS
- Universal Studios: BPS
- US Post Office: BPS
- Vitamin Shoppe: BPS
- Walgreens: BPS
- Walmart: BPS
- Whole Foods Market: BPS
Alternatives to Bisphenol Free Receipt Paper For Retail Stores
There are plenty solutions to retail stores out there. Did you notice that Best Buy and Trader Joes' are the stores offering receipts without bisphenols? Best Buy is using a bisphenol-free receipt paper called Pergafast and Trader Joes' just started rolling out bisphenol-free thermal receipt paper at their stores nationwide. (However, no word on what they are made of yet.) But there ARE alternatives for retail stores to consider in order to protect their customers from bisphenol exposure and here are some of them.
1. No Receipt Option. Train their staff to ask the customer if they want a receipt before they start the transaction. Best Buy does this. This will cut down on the amount of paper they use which will also save them money.
2. Provide an Optional Digital Receipt. Offer to email receipts instead. This would be the best option for someone who has a habit of losing receipts. And there is another added benefit of this adding to their marketing list provided the customer opts in.
3. Reformulate to the Pergafast 201 Thermal Receipt. The Pergafast 201 is what they have when you walk into Best Buy! Instead of using a BPA or BPS powder coating, this alternative was released in 2011. The substance doesn't easily get into the skin. In other words, not as powdery.
4. Reformulate to the Koehler-BLUE 4EST Receipts. The "blue forest" paper seems very promising and it's even won an award, but it may be having supply issues. This paper uses a physical reaction to make the text appear instead. Heat applied to the paper activates carbon black paper underneath which results in print. Unlike the phenol thermal paper, this receipt paper causes no chemical reaction. This is the first thermal paper to be approved for direct contact with food. I hope their supply issues clear up for them so we can start seeing more of this paper soon. So this is an option, but not ready for large scale distribution yet.
5. Reformulate to the Appvion-POS Alpha Free Thermal Receipt. This paper uses a vitamin C coating, which also makes it a subtle shade of yellow. But even though this receipt is slightly yellow, it doesn't affect the visibility of the text. However, there are additional additives inside the paper independent scientists are concerned about. I wouldn't recommend this option due to the additional additives they use in the paper.
6. Reformulate to the ICONEX 2ST Thermal Receipt. Not much is known about this brand other than it allows printing on both sides of the page which can cut the need for paper. No information on what it's made of.
7. Reformulate to the Koehler KT 48PF Thermal Receipt. Not much is known about this option other than it allows receipts to last up to 50 years. Again, no information on what it's made of.
After seeing all these options, it's pretty clear that the options I believe are safest and most available would be 1. Not offering a receipt, 2. Offering a digital receipt and 3. Reformualting to the Pergafast thermal receipt paper that Best Buy uses.
What You Can Do to Avoid Bisphenol Contamination When Shopping
Let's hope all these national brands switch to bisphenol-free paper soon, but as we are building awareness and educating consumers who shop at retail stores, there are some steps you can take today to protect your family.
1. Do you really need a receipt? If not, don't take it. Just say no thank you.
2. Build awareness. Ask the cashier AND/OR manager at the store if the thermal receipt paper is covered with BPA or BPS. It's unlikely they will know but ask them anyway. Tell them you are trying to avoid this hormone-disrupting chemical and you would like for them to find out. This brings the issue to the attention of the retail manager and gets them wondering about the health of their workers. The more the cashiers hear this, the more likely they will start wearing gloves to protect themselves.
3. Ask the store if they have the ability to email you the receipt instead.
4. If there is no digital receipt option available, sign the receipt paper without touching the paper. Not easy, but I've mastered it over the years. Put something weighty on the receipt OR pull your sleeve up and place your arm on it to keep it steady without touching it with your skin. Then scribble your signature on it. Your signature will start to look a bit odd but that's okay. It will still be approved.
5. Wear gloves when paying for things at the register. Place the gloves inside a baggie that doesn't contain anything else to ensure that the bisphenols don't contaminate anything else inside your purse. If you don't carry a purse, then use a baggie and stick them in your pocket.
And if you really need receipts to track things, there are about seven really good apps you can download on your mobile phone to help you take photos of your receipts and track your expenses. Click here to view that list on Mamavation.
To Take Action Today to Make Us All Safer!
Mamavation has launched a petition with Care2 with more than 33,000 signatures encouraging Target to offer digital receipts and reformulate to bisphenol-free paper. If you would like all national stores to start offering safer receipt paper, it has to start with leaders in the retail space. We believe that Target is one of those dynamic brands based on the safer chemical policies they are already putting into place. Target is already starting to restrict hormone disrupting chemicals like fire retardants, phthalates, etc. This is an action that fits perfectly in their new direction. We want to show them that their customers DO care about this health issue and want them to lead in this direction.
Click here to sign the petition and if you want to be part of the Mamavation movement to solve this problem sign up for our newsletter here and we will keep you informed. And for more information about how to avoid chemicals that can disrupt your hormones, pick up a copy of Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!).
Leah Segedie is the founder of the Mamavation® community, ShiftCon Social Media Conference, food activist and social media consultant.
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When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
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