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The Green Sheet Online Edition

September 13, 2010 • Issue 10:09:01

Are thermal paper receipts toxic?

A chemical used in thermal receipt paper is increasingly under scrutiny as a potential health hazard. A July 2010 study commission-ed by the Washington-based Environmental Working Group confirmed that high concentrations of the chemical called bisphenol A (BPA) were found in 40 percent of thermal paper receipts in a sampling culled from national retail chains, post offices and ATMs. Scientists have recognized a link may exist between BPA and a host of disorders, including cancer, obesity and diabetes.

BPA is a component of plastic. It is also referred to as synthetic estrogen. It is applied to receipt paper so that when the paper passes through a POS device, the heat from the device's read head causes a chemical reaction with BPA to produce black print to appear on the receipt.

The EWG study, conducted by Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry in Wilmington, Mass., found the presence of BPA in receipt paper from 8 of 10 stores. The level of the chemical in the paper ranged from 3 to 19 milligrams per 12-inch receipt, the study determined. John C. Warner, President and Chairman of the institute, called the higher levels of BPA in the paper "massive" and urged more research on the uptake of BPA into the bloodstream via skin contact.

Other studies cited by the EWG showed that store clerks, who typically handle more receipts than other people, had 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than others. However, it is not known the extent to which the BPA in thermal receipt paper caused the higher readings. But given the ubiquity of thermal receipts in the marketplace dispensed from POS devices, ATMs, gas pumps, kiosks, etc., it begs the question: Is BPA necessary in thermal receipt paper?

A necessary change?

The answer is no. In 2006, Appleton Paper Inc., the largest manufacturer of thermal receipt paper in North America, decided to stop using BPA in its chemical formulation.

"There were some government concerns about the chemical, and we felt it was not a chemical that we wanted to use in our product," said Bill Van Den Brandt, Manager of Corporate Communications at Appleton. "And there were enough questions around it that we felt that it was the responsible thing to do."

Appleton substituted BPA with bisphenol sulfone (BPS), which Van Den Brandt said is not linked to health concerns and does the job just as well as BPA.

According to Van Den Brandt, Appleton is the only thermal receipt paper manufacturer that does not use BPA. He said Appleton's two major competitors, Kanzaki Specialty Papers and Koehler Paper Group, still use BPA in their thermal receipt paper.

At press time, Kanzaki had not responded to The Green Sheet's request for comment. But Stefan Huber, a technical customer service representative at Koehler, confirmed that the company does employ BPA in its thermal paper.

"BPA is safe according to the U.S. authorities, the European authorities, the Japanese government and many more," he said in an email. "The most stringent EU risk assessment concluded that there is no human risk using or handling thermal paper including bisphenol A."

A Koehler whitepaper said 1,000 toxicological studies performed on BPA by regulatory agencies worldwide have concluded that BPA is neither carcinogenic nor mutagenic. Two recent studies conducted by the Food and Drug Administration came to the same conclusion, and that "studies involving non-oral exposure are of limited relevance to human health," the whitepaper added.

Using this data as evidence, Huber said, "a cashier would have to handle 60,000 cash slips per day only to reach the 'tolerable daily intake' - which is clearly far in excess of what may ever be realistic."

Worth the risk?

Given this disagreement over whether BPA is harmful, Glen Taylor, Vice Chairman at General Credit Forms Inc., asks, why take the chance? "This is a risk that you don't need to own," he said. "And in the past, it was vague and there was a lot of uncertainty whether or not it's a valid risk or a pseudo risk, but we've all been on notice. ... Our basic comment is you can eliminate that by just not using that paper."

Taylor said CGR has used Appleton as its receipt paper manufacturer for over 30 years and supported Appleton's decision to stop using BPA. CGR, which receives Appleton's thermal receipt paper in bulk and then packages it for sale to banks, processors, ISOs and various resellers, does not distribute any thermal receipt paper that comes with BPA, Taylor noted.

But John McCormick, Vice President at CGF, recognizes that the marketplace is a complicated and competitive one. While he said CGF sells its products to about 75 percent of the merchant acquiring industry, it doesn't have control over the paper product mix of its clients.

"For instance, a reseller may be buying large quantities of 2 1/4" thermal rolls from GCF, which would be BPA-free, but they may be getting their other thermal rolls from a different source that is using the thermal papers made with BPA," he said.

Taylor believes most ISOs may not even know whether the thermal receipt paper they supply to merchants is BPA free. According to McCormick, the best way to ensure that thermal receipt paper is BPA free is to contact the receipt paper manufacturer that can control and certify the raw materials being used in the making of the paper. end of article

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