Keep the Change (and the Toxic Receipt)

Hormone-disrupting BPA free with purchase

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I’ve got a chronic habit of holding onto receipts for the items I buy. Just in case a moment of clarity strikes and I realize I don’t need that time-saving gadget or extraneous accessory after all.

But it turns out that as a woman of child-bearing age, this practice poses a greater danger to me than just encouraging indecisive shopping. New evidence suggests that these slips of paper we handle so often are coated in the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA)—putting each of us and our children, even those unborn, at risk. BPA is widely recognized as an endocrine disruptor (a substance that can alter how our hormones are regulated in our bodies). Reports from across the globe have stated that BPA can cause cancer, erectile dysfunction, and child development problems.

Flipping through the Global Times on a flight to Tibet from the Yunnan Province in China the other day, I came across an article reporting that pregnant women and many other people in Shanghai are no longer taking receipts from places like grocery stores and ATMs because of concerns about BPA. Women in the United States are doing the same.

This is just one example of how current chemical policies fail people. And the U.S. law regulating chemicals like BPA in everyday products, the outdated and ineffective Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), lags far behind Europe’s more protective chemical regulations (known as REACH).

Check out our ad supporting the overhaul of existing U.S. chemicals policy:


In lieu of policy change, the American public has had to rely on litigation, consumer demands and a handful of forward-looking companies like Seventh Generation, Staples and Kaiser Permanente to help protect people from the products we constantly use like dishwashing liquid, office supplies and hospital equipment. Besides providing financial reasons for companies to change their products, these pressures have been key in providing incentive for companies to support an overhaul of the existing U.S. chemical law.

Companies like Seventh Generation have demonstrated that selling truly green products can be lucrative, while Staples and Kaiser Permanente want to ensure the products they provide their customers are safe. These examples put pressure on the chemical producers and product manufactures to do the same. In the case of BPA, Walmart removed this chemical from baby products they sell and Nalgene from their popular water bottles more than two years ago. As you can imagine, when a company like Walmart mandates the removal of BPA from popular products it makes a significant difference.

But not all companies are inclined to do the right thing. Case in point: Earthjustice had to sue household cleaner giants Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Church & Dwight (the not-so-green parent company of Arm & Hammer cleaning products) for keeping chemical ingredients in their products secret, breaking a pioneering New York State right-to-know law.

Luckily there are changes brewing—and things we can all do—that could start ridding toxic chemicals from receipts, cleaning products and the rest of the everyday products in our lives.

Consumer pressure and advocacy in states across the country have led to bans of various chemicals. BPA has been banned in several states, including California, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Minnesota and Wisconsin. These developments help push chemical companies to support comprehensive national reform. After all, it’s in their interest to meet a single national safety standard, instead of manufacturing state-specific products to meet varying chemical bans and restrictions.

As a push for the removal of BPA in receipts unfolds in China and the U.S., it’s important to think of the reason this problem exists in the first place—the lack of protective environmental and consumer policies. Luckily Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) has introduced the Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 (PDF) and Congressmen Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Henry Waxman (D-CA) the Chemicals Safety Act of 2010 (PDF). Both bills would do a lot to protect the American public from the products we rely on. We’re also fortunate to have Lisa Jackson, a mother and champion of assuring the safety of chemicals, at the helm of the Environmental Protection Agency.

There are lots of ways to make a difference in ensuring our products are safe from BPA and other chemicals:

  • Drop an email to your Member of Congress asking them to co-sponsor the Chemicals Safety Act and the Safe Chemicals Act.
  • Visit Earthjustice’s campaign page and ask Arm & Hammer to let consumers know what chemicals are in their cleaning products as well as their effects on health.
  • Get involved with Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families coalition. Earthjustice is a member of the Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Coalition of more than 250 public interest groups that’s united to help protect families across the country from dangerous chemicals in our everyday products. Are you a member of a local group that might be interested in joining the coalition? Sign up here.

Emily Enderle worked as a community partnerships manager in the Washington, D.C. office.

Established in 2008, Earthjustice’s Northeast Office, located in New York City, is at the forefront of issues at the intersection of energy, environmental health, and social justice.