Click here to preview the new Fast Company

Want to try out the new

If you’d like to return to the previous design, click the yellow button on the lower left corner.

Toxin BPA Found on Receipts From Safeway, Whole Foods, Walmart

So you've bought a BPA-free water bottle and ditched BPA-filled canned food. But BPA, a toxic chemical found in many of the products we use every day, may still be a big part of your life. That's because massive amounts of BPA are found on many store receipts. And according to a recent study, BPA easily makes the transfer from receipt to skin, where it penetrates at such a deep level that it can't be washed off.

Environmental Working Group decided to find out just how much BPA is found on the store receipts that many of us touch every day. The group explains:

Thermal paper is widely used for point-of-sale receipts, prescription labels, airline tickets and lottery tickets. Thermal printers use paper that is coated with a dye and developer (BPA or an alternative chemical). Heat from the thermal printing head triggers a reaction between the dye and developer, allowing the black print to appear. In an effort to quantify how much BPA would transfer to a person’s hand, the laboratory performed wipe tests on four BPA-laden receipts. In all four cases, BPA transferred from the receipts to the wipes. An average of 2.4 percent of the receipts’ total BPA content wiped off, suggesting that a person who handled receipts would be exposed to some BPA in the thermal paper.

EWG's test of 36 receipts from popular retailers yielded some disturbing results: BPA was found in significant levels in receipts from chains including Safeway, KFC, Whole Foods, Walmart, and McDonald's. In all cases, BPA levels varied wildly from store to store. For example, Receipts from a KFC in Wheaton, Maryland contained 10.64 milligrams of BPA, while receipts from another KFC in Ames, Iowa contained just 0.0001 milligrams. The discrepancies exist because different stores use different types of receipts—some thermal paper manufacturers make an effort to produce BPA-free products.

What's a shopper without easy access to a BPA testing facility to do? Employees at stores that use BPA-slathered receipts have little recourse, but consumers do have some options. Decline receipts whenever possible, wash hands after touching them (even though some BPA will still penetrate the skin), and keep receipts in separate envelopes.  Beyond that, we can only try to pressure stores into ditching BPA-coated receipts. Reports like this one from the EWG should help.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.

Add New Comment


  • Fulano Inc.

    As the company that developed the website for Frances Trombly, I would advise for you to take down the image used in this article. You are in violation of her copyright. It is also obvious that you got the image from her website as you did not bother to rename the file. As you can see in the file name: ft-2007-02-b.jpg, it clearly shows her initials in the name. The use of this image is unacceptable!

  • tchestler

    The image that appears with this article is artwork. I happen to know the artist and this work personally and I find it very irresponsible that you would use an image of her work without permission. One would also think that since your headline specifically names certain retailers that the least you could have done was gather receipts from these business to photograph as apposed to stealing someone else's work.

  • Brook Dorsch

    The receipts pictured above are Hand Sewn art-works by Frances Trombly, I doubt they contain BPA!

  • glen simon

    Toxic, huh. You undermine your journalistic credibility when you start your headline with "Toxic bpa..."
    The FDA has some concern with bpa, meaning it ain't necessarily proven to be harmful in orinary life-time exposure doses. Bpa is rendered somewhat inert by the body when ingested. I've been enjoying a very healthy 50 years in spite of bpa's ubiquitous, "toxic" presence in my ordinary daily living.

  • lisa marie

    Oh great... I worked as a cashier for about 4 years and had no idea. But then again I probably got even more BPA from drinking bottled waters that had sat in a hot car, and microwaved tv dinners with plastic containers.

  • apatriot1

    This is not a good articles. It does not state what are the unsafe levels of exposure and over what period of time. Worse, it presents a bar chart showing Target, Starbucks, etc. with no apparent BPA levels shown, and doesn't mention them in the article. Does that mean they're safe? Do they use different kinds of receipts or ink? Did they just not give any receipts of what? Thankfully, a link was provided to the actual study, but because of variation between stores and lack of statistically valid samples, this is pretty meaningless and a disservice to the public and the retailers. Better to find the source of the BPA (thermal paper or ink manufacturers) and focus on getting them to change their processes. The only value in this article may be be to alert cashiers, who probably have significant exposure touching many receipts daily.

  • Andrew Maul

    ...and unless you take a bath in it every day, it won't kill you. stop freaking out.

  • james kim

    what about people who are ringing the registers? how many receipts do they handle a day? a year?

  • scott griffis

    This is the first coverage I've seen that actually explained WHY BPA would be on the paper. Does this mean the companies knew it was there all along and chose to use it?


  • Ariel Schwartz

    It does, unfortunately. Whether the stores using the receipts knew about the BPA is another story.

  • Appleton Papers

    Appleton Papers, which makes more than 50 percent of the receipt paper sold in the U.S., stopped using BPA in 2006. After reviewing available science we concluded removing BPA from our thermal products was the responsible thing to do. In doing so, we gave retailers and restaurants a safe, easy and cost-competitive choice. Our BPA-free thermal receipt paper is available globally.

    We realize that many of our competitors continue to use BPA despite mounting concerns about its safety. We are actively participating in the EPA’s BPA Alternatives in Thermal Paper Partnership. We hope the remainder of the thermal paper industry moves away from potentially harmful BPA. More information about the partnership is available on the EPA website:

    For more information about Appleton and our BPA-free thermal paper products, visit

  • Faith

    Wonderful that you are using BPA-free thermal paper, but what did you replace it with? BPS?

  • Manulifeta

    Thank You Appleton Papers!!! Yours is a company I will remember and recommend to others!!!


    Philip San Juan