Monday, August 23, 2010

#7 Two Salads to Go: Hold the receipts

“You should read this,” my husband declared while sliding an article in front of me.

“What is it about?” I asked suspiciously. Jeff is very thoughtful about digging up interesting items for me to read but has been known to occasionally slip in something about global transfer pricing or taxation of international financial instruments. As a result, I know more about Subpart F of the Internal Revenue Code than the average nutritionist, the only purpose of which is to make me a better conversational partner when he wants to talk about work.

“You won’t believe it,” he says cryptically and dashes off to work.

The article was written by Dr. David Williams, a clever, holistically oriented physician who produces a subscription newsletter and sells his own line of supplements. The subject was a nasty chemical called bisphenol A (BPA). BPA is used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics, such as water and baby bottles. It is one reason we have been warned to minimize drinking out of plastic bottles.

I have dutifully informed my clients not to microwave in plastic and encourage the use of glass storage containers to reduce BPA exposure. While scientists continue to debate exactly how dangerous BPA (a known hormone disruptor/synthetic estrogen) is, I figure it is better to be safe while the industry subsidized “experts” duke it out.

Williams’ report claimed a new study suggested all this fuss about BPA in plastic bottles is misplaced. The major danger from BPA actually comes from store receipts. Huh?

You could chew plastic bottles all day, he asserts and only accumulate a small percentage of the BPA you could get from TOUCHING grocery store and post office receipts. The culprit is the thermal ink-less paper used to print receipts at big retailers, restaurants, gas stations and practically any place else one shops. They are coated with tons of the toxin which absorbs right through your skin.

All this time I have been trying to figure out which number plastic bottle is safest and the real health danger is shopping!

Further research on my part discovered an Environmental Working Group ( report which found BPA in 40% of the receipts they collected from stores. Another study found 80%. In 2006, the nation’s largest manufacture of this poison paper dropped BPA from its formulation because of “growing concerns” about its safety.

The US Postal Service stopped buying BPA coated paper in Sept. 2009 but samples taken in March 2010 were still all positive for BPA. I go to the post office all the time! Perhaps I should collect hazard pay for mailing boxes. I try not to be a nut about my living habits but these findings call for action.

My action plan is to only accept the receipts I need for tax or record keeping purposes. Good thing all my reading on obscure parts of the tax code allows me to immediately identify the important receipts. I now wash my hands as soon as possible after handling receipts and no longer throw them on top of my food or newly purchased underwear.

Unfortunately, these behavioral changes move me one step closer to the “out there” level of healthy/environmentally sound living. I already take my own bags, even to the mall, much to the distress of my teenage daughter. Imagine her mortifications when I whip out my cotton gloves before taking the receipt. I am not sure I am ready for that step.

She is also about to start a job in retail sales. Are the potential long term dangers of exposure to BPA for such a benign occupation now to be compared to working in a coal mine? If she can’t have children one day, will we be blaming all that receipt handling?

This scenario sounds ridiculous yet that is exactly the kind of detective work I employed this week with one of my 60 year old clients with complex medical problems. Some of her symptoms harken back to her employment in a perfume factory while in college. Who knows what class of possible poisons were used to create scents in the 70’s and what effect it could be having on her present health. Perfume may sound innocent, pleasant even but we suspect the effect of the chemical exposure is still significant today.

Now consider the innocent receipt…….

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