American Chemical Society podcast misrepresents safety of thermal paper

The American Chemical Society (ACS) inexplicably launched a podcast last week suggesting that handling of paper products, including thermal receipts, may pose a risk of harmful health effects. The podcast reports that “bisphenol A (BPA) – a substance that may have harmful health effects –occurs in 94 percent of thermal cash register receipts” and that “handling of paper products can contribute up to 2 percent of the total daily BPA exposure in the general population.” However, the study itself (Liao & Kannan, Widespread Occurrence of Bisphenol A in Paper and Paper Products: Implications for Human Exposure, Environ. Sci. Technol. 45:9372-79, 2011) characterizes these values as “minor” compared to exposure through diet.

Further, the study notes that estimated daily intake (EDI) values calculated for BPA from paper products were “several orders of magnitude” lower than the oral Reference Dose (RfD) or the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) value of 50 micrograms per kilogram body weight per day established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the European Food Safety Authority. Both the RfD and TDI have similar definitions – the amount of a substance that can be taken in daily over a lifetime without appreciable health risk. Because median EDI values from thermal paper receipts, even from occupational exposure (worst case), were in fact over 1500 times lower than the RfD and TDI, the findings of the paper do not support the insinuations of the podcast of health risk from BPA in thermal paper.

In short, ACS should have done more research on thermal paper – a product with a long history of proven safety – before launching its podcast.