Have you touched a receipt today? Bought a coffee, maybe lunch, and received a paper record of the transaction?  These days, many receipts are printed on thermal paper, which has a slight sheen to it and a slippery feel. Most of these are coated with BPA or BPS, chemicals which disrupt the endocrine system.

The problems associated with BPA are well-publicized, and Environmental Defence was behind the successful campaign to have the chemical banned from baby bottles and sippy cups, making Canada the first jurisdiction of many to take action on this chemical.

BPA mimics the hormone estrogen. Increased lifetime exposure to estrogen is associated with higher breast cancer risk. This is only one of the concerns with the chemical. It has also been associated with risk factors for diabetes and other health problems.

When public pressure against BPA was mounting, some companies turned to BPS as an alternative. This is an example of regrettable substitution; the research into the potential health effects of BPS was not adequate, and now that researchers are digging deeper, the results make for an unfortunate surprise.

Scientists at the University of Calgary have published a paper linking very low dose exposures of BPA and BPS to hyperactivity in zebrafish. For the study, researchers exposed zebrafish embryos to concentrations of BPA and BPS at levels found in the Bow and Oldman rivers in southern Alberta.  The results were that BPA increased the number of neurons generated in developing fish brains by 180 per cent, and BPS increased the number of neurons by 240 per cent, in comparison to unexposed fish. The exposed fish also showed greater hyperactivity later on.  Their conclusions indicate a possible risk for human brains exposed to BPA and BPS in the course of brain development.

More research is needed into the effects of BPS and other endocrine disrupting chemicals. In the meantime, what can Canadians do to reduce their exposure to a chemical that is used in items as ubiquitous as receipts?

Ask for your receipt to be emailed to you as an alternative to taking a paper copy. And mention your concerns to the businesses you frequent. It can be hard to find out what receipts are made of, but with a little bit of pressure, companies will consider making a change.

Learn more about endocrine disrupting chemicals and what you can do to reduce your exposure by checking out our tips and guides. It’s easy to take a few simple steps that can go a long way to protect your own health and the environment.