A group of health, labour, and environmental organizations is calling on Canada’s leading grocery stores to ditch paper receipts coated with hormone-disrupting chemicals that have been linked to diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, Environmental Defence Canada (EDC), Breast Cancer Action Quebec, Mind the Store, and the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada union urged the country’s “leading grocery giants” to stop using receipt paper containing bisphenol-A (BPA) or bisphenol-S (BPS).
Grocers specifically named in the release include Loblaws, Costco Canada, Metro, Sobeys, and Walmart Canada. The group states that grocery store cashiers are subjected to “potentially dangerous levels” of the chemicals through skin absorption when they handle receipts without wearing gloves.
BPA is a well-known chemical that is commonly found in food and drink packaging.
According to the EDC, which published research on thermal paper receipts in February, BPA is widely known for its “hormone-disrupting effects” and is linked to a range of health problems, including diabetes, obesity, ADHD in children, and breast and prostate cancers.
In 2010, Canada became the first country in the world to ban BPA from baby bottles after the federal government labelled it a toxic substance with potentially harmful health effects for babies. While the man-made chemical was prohibited from products that babies may be exposed to, BPA has not been banned from all food and beverage items.
However, due to consumers’ concerns, many companies have voluntarily removed BPA from their products and replaced it with a closely related alternative called BPS, which the EDC said “exhibits comparable effects to BPA.”
Despite the switch to BPS, the EDC said BPA continues to be a source of concern after it was shown to be present in the bodies of nine out 10 Canadians in Health Canada’s latest Canadian Health Measures Survey.
On the other hand, Health Canada states on its website that most Canadians are exposed to “very low levels of BPA that do not pose a health risk.”
In February, a spokesperson for the health agency said in an email they haven’t been able to conclude that BPA in thermal receipt paper is a “significant source of exposure for the general population” and they have no plans to ban BPA and BPS in receipts.
“It is important for Canadians to understand that just because a chemical may be detected in our bodies, it does not necessarily mean it is causing harm,” the statement added.
On Tuesday, a spokesperson for Health Canada said the agency’s statement still stands.
Grocery retailers respond
Muhannad Malas, a toxics program manager with EDC, has a different stance on the issue, however.
“With every transaction at the cash register, cashiers and customers across Canada are unknowingly exposed to a dose of hormone-disrupting BPA or BPS,” he said in Tuesday’s press release.
Malas went on to say that leading grocers need to protect workers and customers by discontinuing use of receipts containing BPA and BPS.
In response to the organizations’ call for action, Loblaws said it already transitioned out of using BPA in favour of BPS in its receipts in 2012.
“While Health Canada regulations permit the use of BPS, our intention is to transition fully out of bisphenol-coated receipts and we have already begun testing alternative papers,” Catherine Thomas, the senior director of external communication, said in an emailed statement on Tuesday.
“We also make gloves available to our colleagues and continue to roll out e-receipts for our customers.”
Spokespersons for Metro and Walmart Canada refrained from commenting on the topic and instead directed CTVNews.ca to the Retail Council of Canada (RCC) for a statement.
The RCC, which represents the interests of more than 45,000 stores in Canada, said it was unable to comment on “business decisions including the sourcing of supplies and equipment” of its members.
“That said, MANY retailers have switched their cashier receipts to paper that does not contain Bisphenol-A (BPA). In addition, retailers are increasingly moving to electronic receipts which removes the need for printed paper (including digital and online receipts),” Andrew Telfer, the vice-president of Health & Wellness and Industry Relations for RCC, said in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday.
Costco Canada and Sobeys could not be reached for comment by publication time.
In its February study, the EDC advised retailers to provide cashiers with “receipt-handling training” and gloves while they wait for bisphenol-free paper to be wholly adopted.
As for consumers, the organization recommends they hold the unprinted side of a receipt and wash their hands after they’ve handled one.
The health, labour and environmental groups said Canada should follow the lead of other governments in Europe, which have already banned BPA from receipts, and Switzerland, which has moved to extend the ban to BPS.
“There’s no reason why shopping at the grocery store should mean families may be exposed to a toxic hazard,” Mind the Store Campaign Director Mike Schade said in a press release. “Just like retailers have driven BPA out of baby bottles, they should take action to remove bisphenols from receipts.”