BPA Replacement Permeates Paper Products | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: May 23, 2012

BPA Replacement Permeates Paper Products

Endocrine Disrupters: Researchers report first data on Bisphenol A alternative in receipts
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Environmental SCENE, Analytical SCENE
Keywords: endocrine disrupters, bisphenol A, BPA, bisphenol S, BPS, environmental estrogens
Receipt Chemicals
Sales receipts expose people to the endocrine disrupter BPA or to its structurally related alternative, BPS.
Credit: Shutterstock
Receipt Chemicals
Sales receipts expose people to the endocrine disrupter BPA or to its structurally related alternative, BPS.
Credit: Shutterstock

Concerns about the health effects of bisphenol A have led manufacturers to produce and market BPA-free products. However, a new study has found that one of the compounds that replaces BPA is just as prevalent in paper products and could lead to significant human exposure (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es300876n). Because of these results, the scientists who performed the study say that toxicology research is desperately needed on the BPA alternative.

Manufacturers use BPA to make plastics, and paper companies apply it to heat-sensitive sales receipts to help develop ink. “However, about 300 animal studies have shown that BPA has a wide range of effects as an endocrine disrupter,” says Frederick vom Saal, a developmental endocrinologist at the University of Missouri, Columbia, who was not involved in the new study. Endocrine disrupters act like natural hormones and can interfere with cellular pathways. Animal studies have found that BPA can cause health problems, such as obesity and mammary and prostate tumor growth, vom Saal says. More than 30 epidemiological studies have linked exposure to BPA to similar effects in people, he adds.

People readily absorb BPA through the skin and into the bloodstream after it sloughs off of thermal receipts, says Kurunthachalam Kannan, an environmental chemist at the New York State Department of Health and a coauthor of the study. He and his team were tracking BPA concentrations on thermal receipts in 2010 when they noticed that paper companies were replacing BPA with bisphenol S (BPS), which is structurally similar to BPA and also has estrogen-like activity, Kannan says.

To look at BPS in thermal paper, the scientists collected thermal receipts from stores in the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Vietnam. They extracted BPS from each receipt and confirmed the compound’s identity using high-performance liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry. They found an average concentration of 0.181 mg of BPS per gram of paper, with some samples reaching 22 mg/g. Kannan and a colleague previously reported similar concentrations for BPA (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI: 10.1021/es202507f).

The researchers then used a mathematical model to estimate a person’s daily intake of BPS. The model assumed the rate of transfer of BPS to skin was similar to that of BPA and took into account how often and how long people handled BPS-containing paper. The general population likely absorbs 291 ng of BPS per day through their skin, they concluded, while workers such as store clerks may absorb 21,804 ng/day. In a just-published paper, Kannan’s team report exposure data based on urine samples (Environ. Sci. Technol., DOI:10.1021/es301334j).

The new study is important because it demonstrates that people may experience significant exposure to BPS, vom Saal says. Therefore, he adds, more information on BPS is needed. The fact that manufacturers replaced a known endocrine disrupter with a compound with similar estrogen-like activity, he says, highlights the need to update the regulatory requirements for screening compounds for endocrine-disrupting activity.

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jp  (May 24, 2012 10:31 AM)
vom Saal is pretty much a salesman at this point. He only pushes his own agenda. He's not mentioning all the studies that suggest that BPA isn't as dangerous as he makes it out to be. Convenient. There's little evidence to suggest that BPA is "readily" absorbed through the skin. Additionally, BPS is only somewhat structurally similar to BPA so isn't it jumping the gun to say that they are similar in endocrine disruption and skin absorption? It doesn't take a chemist to know that a sulfone is chemically and structurally different than the isopropyl group in BPA and would most likely interact differently in the endocrine system. This could be a really interesting study, but run the study and then make conclusions. Let go of the bias.
Paul Whaley  (May 25, 2012 12:59 PM)
I think the concern with BPS is we have an alternative to BPA being rapidly introduced to market with very little data as to its toxicity. If you run a search on PubMed, you'll see there are some indicators of hormonal activity, depending on which receptors you look at.

I can't comment on the exposure model, but if accurate then occupational exposure could be an issue - if BPS has replaced BPA so rapidly, as the research suggests, then inferring that BPS exposure *may* be significant seems reasonable enough.

I don't think vom Saal is necessarily being biased here - C&EN asked for his opinion about the research, and he gave them it. Vom Saal is no chump - we certainly know what he thinks, but I don't think there are many questions about the quality of his research. (Except from Plastics Europe or the ACC, of course, but they are hardly shining lights when it comes to being bias-free.)
cj  (May 25, 2012 2:39 PM)
Some of the main industry-sponsored toxicology studies suggesting that BPA has no toxicity are flawed; they don't convince me that BPA is harmless. It is well documented that BPA transfers readily to the skin from paper items containing it; and there are some studies on dermal absorption of BPA supporting the "readily absorbed through skin" statement (I found some quickly doing a Google search). Add the oral exposure via hand to mouth transfer and you can get a lot of BPA exposure through contact with receipts/paper products. It would be nice if the U.S. had a real Toxic Substances Control Act that forced industry to prove the safety of its chemicals (e.g., BPS) before introducing them into commerce. The safety of BPS is not well studied (only 12 records in Toxline; not much information in the public domain), and now its being used to replace BPA in paper products. Great ...
Evelyn McMullen  (May 24, 2012 11:31 PM)
Why can't they just quit using either one? We'd all be better off.
Danielle  (May 29, 2012 4:32 PM)
@jp "He's not mentioning all the studies that suggest that BPA isn't as dangerous as he makes it out to be"
I am curious to all this research and studies you speak of. Could you point me the direction of these studies?
I am researching BPA as I type this and I have not found anything on Library Resources that says BPA is not dangerous or "suggest" that it is not dangerous.
JH  (May 30, 2012 12:54 PM)

this is a BPA industry page promoting how great, wonderful and safe BPA is. (if you believe them) I recently concluded a large project measuring BPA in consumer plastics and thermal receipt paper. I did a large litterature review and I believe BPA is inherently not safe, however not going to have an effect at concentrations we see daily. Both sides (industry vs consumer advocates) have science on their side saying bpa is safe or unsafe, truth is I don't think we really know yet.
Also, the whole "BPA free" thing is a sham, i found ~100ppm BPA in a "BPA Free" drinking cup from a large chain retail store....
Danielle  (June 1, 2012 4:50 PM)
@JH, Thanks.
I am also working on a literature review as well. I think mine may focus more on the Toxic Substance Control Act and not so much on Bisphenol A (BPA) but on the Estrogentic Activity (EA) because "bpa free" does not mean it is safe. They are just replacing BPA with a sister compound BPS. That is probably why you found EA in "bpa free" plastics.
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