First it was found in the lining of canned goods. Then we were told it was all over our reusable water bottles and plastic baby bottles. According to a new study published in PLOS One by the University of Missouri this month, the synthetic chemical compound Bisphenol A (BPA) can even be ingested simply by handling a cash register receipt while you're at a fast food joint.
BPA, an endocrine-disrupting environmental contaminant linked to a variety of negative health effects, such as childhood obesity and testosterone imbalances, started making headlines in 2008 after these risks were exposed to the public. Since then, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expressed "some concern" about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior, and prostate glands in fetuses, infants, and children (2010), and withdrawn its approval of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups (2012).
But the use of BPA is still prevalent in the manufacture of other consumer products and packaging, notably thermal paper, which is used in cash register receipts.
Researchers found that people who used hand sanitizer and handled a receipt before eating french fries were immediately exposed to high levels of BPA.
This is because "The chemicals used to make hand sanitizers, soaps, lotions, and sunscreen degrade the skin's ability to act as a barrier and so act as skin penetration enhancers," says Frederick S. vom Saal, one of the study's authors.
So when you touch a receipt — even for as little as 60 seconds — after you've disinfected your hands, you're inadvertently helping the BPA get into your system quicker. Pick up a few fries and the BPA is transferred from your fingers to your food as well — a double whammy.
The current regulation of BPA has largely depended on studies that focus on the health effects of the chemical after it passes through the gut. This study, however, shows that skin absorption actually leads to higher levels of biologically active BPA in the body than when it's only digested through food and drink.
Since BPA is fat soluble, the absorption happens at a greater amount in a shorter period of time. That means every time you eat any greasy foods, you could be getting a super-sized dose of BPA through your hands and then from the food you eat with your hands.
This is not to say you'll be in danger if you slather on the Purell before you grab a receipt one time, but repeated exposure could potentially increase your chances of BPA-related health issues.
So if you needed another good reason to skip the fries, this could be it. Or skip the sanitizer and opt for plain old soap and water.