JAMA’s Dangerous Hype: BPA and Cash Register Receipt Research Letter

This month’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) contains a “research letter” on a “study” conducted by researchers at Harvard University that says:

Human exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) has been associated with adverse health outcomes …we hypothesized that handling of thermal receipts significantly increases BPA exposure … In this pilot study,we observed an increase in urinary BPA concentrations after continuously handling receipts for 2 hours without gloves, but no significant increase when using gloves.

And given these “findings” the headlines declare:

Does this JAMA article really warrant such coverage? Not at all. It didn’t really find much of anything.

Basically, after two hours of constant handling of receipts that contain trace levels of BPA, the study subjects had slightly more trace levels of BPA in their urine. So what? Studies have shown that BPA passes out of the body quickly, before it can have any health effects.

The tiny increase of BPA and small study size make these “findings” pretty much meaningless. In the study, the mean BPA level measured in urine among 24 subjects increased from 1.8 ug/l to 5.8 ug/l before and after handling cash register receipts for two hours. That is, the increase was just 3 parts per billion! These levels are well below levels that regulators around the world have deemed safe. For example, the authors of the JAMA letter admit, “The peak level (5.8 g/L) was lower than that observed after canned soup consumption (20.8 g/L).”

The only reason, perhaps, JAMA publishes this “letter” is to attract news headlines. But lost in the resulting hype is the fact that BPA is used to protect public health. BPA resins that line food containers prevent development of dangerous pathogens that otherwise might produce deadly food-borne illnesses. Thanks to JAMA’s contribution to the anti-BPA hype, we may eventually see increased regulation of BPA and the loss of its life-saving and enhancing benefits.