Facts about Thermal Paper

ATM receipts, free of BPA safety issues according to research

What is Bisphenol A?
Why is BPA used in thermal paper?
Facts about Bisphenol A
Relevant research

A significant percentage of thermal papers on the worldwide market use technology that employs the chemical bisphenol A, or BPA. These types of papers are known for their reliability and durability, as well as for their safety.

What is Bisphenol A?

Bisphenol A is an important chemical building block used in a wide variety of applications since the 1950s. BPA has many properties that make it extremely useful for the manufacture of high-performance products, including the strong and shatter-resistant plastic known as polycarbonate, and epoxy resins used to make protective coatings that, among other uses, preserve the safety and integrity of canned foods and beverages by preventing corrosion and contamination. (For more information about Bisphenol A, visit factsaboutbpa.org.)

Why is BPA used in thermal paper?

Because BPA is extremely stable and heat-resistant, it is used to make the coatings that give thermal paper the unique properties that allow for inkless printing. BPA is also one of the most widely researched substances on the market, and has been used extensively in commerce for 50 years with no evidence of harm to human health – even among workers exposed to significantly higher levels than the general public.

Extensive data on BPA exists from more than a thousand studies examining a number of its properties, including toxicity, ecotoxicity, metabolism, pharmacokinetics and human exposure.

Based on these studies, BPA has been approved for use by the leading public health authorities all over the world, including the European Food Safety Authority, the United States Food and Drug Administration, Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) and the Food Safety Authority of Australia and New Zealand. These international authorities have performed exhaustive reviews of all relevant studies concerning the potential effects of BPA on human health, and have determined that products made from BPA, including thermal paper, are safe for consumers and the environment when used as intended.

Facts about Bisphenol A

Here are some important facts you should know about BPA, one of the most rigorously studied chemicals on the market today:

  • BPA is not carcinogenic or mutagenic.
  • It does not adversely affect reproduction or development at any dose that is relevant to human exposure.
  • BPA shows no estrogenic effects at those levels to which humans are normally exposed.
  • Common and natural phytoestrogens, such as soybeans and tofu, are more estrogenic than BPA.
  • BPA is efficiently metabolized and rapidly excreted after oral exposure. The metabolites (or breakdown products following metabolism) have been shown to be non-estrogenic.
  • BPA has not been shown to cause low-dose endocrine related reproductive or developmental effects in large-scale, robust studies that follow Good Laboratory Practices (GLP). Reports of “low-dose” effects have only been shown in small-scale studies, with results that have never been replicated.

Specifically regarding thermal paper, there is no evidence of adverse health effects from the small amounts of BPA that may migrate from thermal paper. Studies have estimated that even the highest ranges of consumer exposures to BPA in thermal paper are more than 40 times less than current safety regulations – which already have a significant margin of safety.

Relevant research

BPA has been used and extensively studied for many years by global public health authorities, which have examined all uses of BPA, including the safety of thermal paper used in commerce.

  • An international panel of experts convened by the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recently reported that after reviewing all the evidence of the potential of BPA to affect human health, it concluded that food was “by far the main source of BPA exposure” and that other sources, including thermal paper, were “of minor relevance.” It further noted that “BPA is not accumulated in the body and is rapidly eliminated through urine.”

A full risk assessment conducted under the European Union (EU) Existing Substances Directive that considered all uses of BPA, including thermal paper, completed in 2008, relied on independent scientific experts from the EU Member States, and considered several hundreds studies published in recent years, including both small exploratory studies that do not follow established protocols (i.e. studies reporting “low dose effects”, as well as comprehensive, statistically-robust studies following accepted international protocols and standards, such as the Good Laboratory Practices Directive). The studies also covered all potentially affected age groups including infants and small children.

This comprehensive EU assessment concluded that products made from BPA, including thermal paper, are safe for consumers and the environment when used as intended. It further notes that

“Other uses of BPA, such as printing inks and thermal paper, are considered to result in negligible potential for consumer exposure in comparison with all other sources considered.

  • The leading public health authorities in the United States (FDA), Japan, Australia and New Zealand (FSANZ), and elsewhere have recently conducted detailed reviews of all relevant studies concerning the potential effect of BPA on human health and affirmed that current uses of products made with BPA pose little risk to public health and thus are safe for continued use.
  • A recent review by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is focuses on new studies published since the previous EFSA review, completed in 2008, and notes that human epidemiological studies do not support the conclusion that BPA is the cause of any health effects.

“Dermal absorption is at most a secondary route for Bisphenol A. The primary absorption route is still dietary intake. For this route, daily total amounts of BPA around 10,000 times higher are considered harmless for adults.”

  • Another important recent study, by Switzerland’s food regulatory authority, published June 2010 in the Analytical and Bioanalytical and Chemistry concluded that cashiers or others who might be touching thermal printer paper for as much as 10 hours per day would nevertheless absorb more than 40 times less BPA than allowed under current safety regulations, which have a significant margin of safety.