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Enjoy your French fries and ignore the hype about BPA

This week, yet another new bisphenol A (BPA) study hit the news after being announced with a sensationalistic press release. The study appears to have been designed not to benefit public health, but to create drama.

The study, from Frederick vom Saal and co-workers at the University of Missouri, examined potential exposure to BPA from holding thermal receipt paper and using the hands to eat French fries immediately after using hand sanitizer. It could be described mathematically as:

Thermal Paper + French Fries + Hand Sanitizer = Latest BPA Hysteria

Because of the very specific and unrealistic experimental conditions, much of the data presented in this new study has almost no relevance to the potential for human exposure to BPA from handling thermal receipt paper. As stated by an expert who reviewed the study, “the conditions used in this experiment are quite unlike any realistic use of thermal paper.”

Although not mentioned in the press release or the news stories, the most relevant data from this study shows very little BPA exposure under conditions most representative of real-life contact with thermal receipt paper. This expert reviewer got it right: “This study shows that for the majority of the population handling thermal paper is not a significant source of BPA.”

The truth is that we know a great deal about how BPA is absorbed into and eliminated from the body. Recent biomonitoring data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) demonstrate that consumer exposure to BPA – from all sources including thermal receipt paper – is extremely low. In fact, typical BPA exposure from all sources is about 1,000 times below safe intake levels set by government bodies in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Other studies on thermal receipt paper also demonstrate that there is almost no rational cause for concern about BPA. Notably, a recent study from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health (Porras et al., 2014) found no significant exposure to BPA from handling receipt paper using real-life exposure scenarios. Included in the Finnish study were conditions representative of cashiers (i.e., repeated handling of receipts throughout a workday) and more intensive short-term handling considered to be beyond normal handling of paper receipts.

The best lesson we can get from this study is one provided implicitly by the expert reviewer.  Ignore the hype and let the data talk. What it tells you may be quite different from what you read in the news.

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