As OSHA asks for comments on ways to update its exposure limits for hazardous chemicals, a new study shows how two common products might, when combined, lead to absorption of a chemical into the body.
The study shows people who held thermal receipts after using hand sanitizer had up to 185 times more bisphenol A (BPA) clinging to their skin after one minute compared to those who did the same with dry hands.
BPA has been suspected to be connected to a variety of health problems ranging from attention-deficit disorder to cancer. BPA is a primary ingredient in thermal paper receipts used in cash registers, ATMs and some airline tickets.
What is it about the combination of thermal receipts and hand sanitizer that could be problematic?
Soaps, sunscreens, sanitizers and other products for the skin contain chemicals designed to allow the product to be more easily absorbed into the skin.
(Think about every time you’ve noticed an ad for a skin product that touts “deep moisturizing” or “deep cleansing.”)
So the sanitizer temporarily opens the skin, allowing chemicals such as BPA to enter.
(Think about how often these days you see “complimentary” hand sanitizer in stores for customers, or a bottle of the cleaner sitting next to a cash register.)
The study from the University of Missouri is small. More research into the sanitizer-receipt link is needed.
But one store isn’t waiting for additional scientific research. PCC Natural markets replaced the thermal paper it had been using with paper that uses vitamin C as an alternative “thermal developer.”
Replacing the BPA paper with the vitamin C paper is an example of what’s known as “informed substitution” – replacing hazardous substances with safer alternatives.
Informed substitution is one method of managing chemical exposures suggested by OSHA in its recent request for comment on ways to prevent work-related illness caused by exposure to hazardous chemicals.
Besides informed substitution, OSHA also wants comments on other approaches such as streamlined risk assessment and control banding.