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Pregnant Women Warned Not To Handle Sales Receipts

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Pregnant women and nursing mothers are being warned to avoid reaching for credit card and cash register receipts, as researchers of multiple studies say the bisphenol plastic in the receipt paper could be a threat to unborn and infant children. 

Two studies (Viable skin efficiently absorbs and metabolizes bisphenol A, J.Chemosphere.2010.09.058; and Variability and Predictors of Urinary Bisphenol A Concentrations during Pregnancy, Environ Health Perspect) have linked handling thermal receipt paper with absorption of Bisphenol A, the seemingly ubiquitous, estrogen-mimicking hormone disruptor. The studies' authors recommend that pregnant women stay away from thermal receipt paper, and wash their hands after handling it. BPA absorption is also linked to sexual dysfunction in men.

The receipts can contain the toxin bisphenol A and its chemical cousin, bisphenol S, chemicals that a new study shows can alter brain development and behavior in animals exposed to extremely low doses.

In a third study was published Monday by a team at the University of Calgary was done on zebrafish. But the findings are so worrying that lead researcher Deborah Kurrasch and her colleagues are calling for “removal of all bisphenols from consumer merchandise.”

They also “suggest that pregnant mothers limit exposure to plastics and receipts,” a recommendation that is echoed by other researchers familiar with the power of the endocrine-disrupting chemicals.

The greatest risk is in the second trimester when infant brains are rapidly growing and would be most vulnerable to the ill effects of bisphenol A, or BPA, and Bisphenol S, BPS, which has been widely used to replace BPA.

The chemicals can have “real and measurable effects on brain development and behaviour,” the researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Their experiments on embryonic fish found minuscule doses of the chemicals — far below levels deemed safe in Canada — stimulate excess growth of neural cells associated with hyperactivity.

The chemicals can have ‘real and measurable effects on brain development and behaviour,’ the researchers report

BPA is used to harden plastic and is found in plastic containers, the lining of cans and on the thermal paper that is used to produce everything from credit card receipts to theatre tickets. As concern about BPA has grown, it is increasingly being replaced by BPS — which the study says is just as bad.

It “equally affects neurodevelopment,” says the study which adds to mounting concerns about the chemicals which can leach into food and rub off receipts. Health Canada surveys have shown that 95% of Canadians have trace amounts of BPA in their urine, with the highest levels seen in children.

BPA are endocrine disrupters that have been linked to obesity, cancer and childhood neurological disorders such as anxiety and hyperactivity. Previous studies suggesting that BPA may affect brain development prompted Canada and some other countries to ban the chemical’s use in baby bottles and phase out its use in baby food containers.

Dr. Kurrasch and her colleagues say regulators need to go much further.

Their work on embryonic zebrafish found very low doses — “1,000 fold lower than the accepted human daily exposure” of BPA — lead to overproduction of neural cells in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain involved in hyperactivity.

“What we show is that BPA affects the timing of when neurons are born, and that presumably alters circuitry in the brain, so you get this slightly different wiring,” Dr. Kurrasch said in an interview. She is a developmental neuroscientist who studies how changes in the brain in early life can impact later life.

Dr. Kurrasch says regulatory authorities such as Health Canada need to reassess human tolerable daily intake levels.

In another study, carried out by epidemiologists at Harvard University in the US, team leader Joe Braun and colleagues measured BPA levels in urine samples from 389 pregnant women and then correlated the data with the occupation of the women.

The results were that cashiers had the highest concentrations of BPA (2.8 μg/g), while teachers and industrial workers had much lower levels (1.8 and 1.2 respectively). Since cashiers handle far more receipts than the general population, Braun said he was "pretty confident" BPA from the receipts was being absorbed through the skin in those women.

A similar study was also carried out on 400 pregnant women in and around Cincinnati, in the US. Leader of the research team, Frederick von Saal of the University of Missouri-Columbia said the results were unequivocal in showing BPA can go through human skin. Like the French study, the highest levels were found in women who worked as cashiers.

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