A study released late today by the Environmental Working Group reported that a laboratory analysis it commissioned found the plastic component BPA on 40 percent of receipts from McDonald's, CVS, KFC, Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, Safeway and other businesses.
BPA is used to coat thermal paper, which reacts with dye to form black print on receipts handled by millions of Americans every day. In laboratory tests, the chemical has been linked to a long list of serious health problems in animals. Several environmental activists, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also have called for removing BPA from canned goods.
"Consumers are being exposed to BPA at the point of sale once they're handed a receipt," senior scientist Dr. Anila Jacob told AOL News.
These receipts pile up in purses, wallets and shopping bags, coming into contact with food and other items. When handled, the slips of thermal paper can easily contaminate fingers, which then can result in oral or dermal exposure, the physician explained.
Wipe tests conducted by EWG's researchers easily removed BPA from the sample receipts, indicating that the chemical could rub off on the hands of a person handling the paper. The heat-activated paper that was tested contained as much as 3 percent pure BPA by weight, EWG reported.
But is this harmful to humans?
The EWG, a national nonprofit organization, is undertaking additional studies to determine whether and to what degree BPA enters the body. However, earlier this month Swiss scientist Sandra Biedermann and her colleagues from the Zurich Official Food Control Authority reported that BPA from register receipts can "enter the skin to such a depth that it can no longer be washed off."
That finding raises the possibility that the chemical infiltrates the skin's lower layers to enter the bloodstream directly, the EWG says.
The Fix May Be Easy
However, the scientists did not detect any BPA or only trace amounts in receipts from Target, Starbucks, some bank ATMs and other enterprises.
Avoiding Contact With BPA Receipts
"Since 60 percent of the receipts EWG tested did not contain BPA, we know there is an easy fix for retailers who still use paper containing the chemical," Jacob added.
For almost two years now, public health and environmental experts have been pushing to reduce BPA exposure, especially in cans for processed food, baby bottles and infant formula.
In animal tests, scientists have produced evidence that BPA can induce abnormal reproductive system development, diminished intellectual capacity and behavioral abnormalities and can set the stage for other serious conditions, such as reproductive system cancer, obesity, diabetes, early puberty, resistance to chemotherapy, asthma and cardiovascular system disorders.
The EWG added that exposure can also cause epigenetic changes, meaning alterations in the way genes switch off and on and genetic changes that can be passed on to the next generation.
Scientists at the University of Missouri's Division of Biological Sciences laboratory examined receipts collected from big-name and mom-and-pop stores, ATMs, gas stations and other commercial operations in seven states and the District of Columbia, according to the EWG.
The amount of BPA the analysis found on the feather-weight scraps of paper were 250 to 1,000 times greater than other, more widely criticized sources carrying the toxin.
Risk to Workers
The BPA coating on receipt paper is an obvious concern for shoppers, but even more so for the millions of people who staff cash registers and bag groceries at tens of thousands of retailers across the country
The Swiss researchers reported that a person repeatedly touching thermal printer paper for 10 hours a day could be exposed to 42 times the present tolerable daily exposure.
The risk from handling BPA-laden receipts can be significant, Jacob said, and added that eliminating exposure to this ubiquitous yet toxic substance should remain the first priority of U.S. lawmakers.
The EWG study says statistics from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that retail workers carry an average of 30 percent more BPA in their bodies than other adults.
AOL News asked the Occupational Safety and Health Administration if it had plans to control this occupational exposure but received no reply.