Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Red Ink and Invisible Powder

Sharon Wildwind

In Nursing Arts, my classmates and I learned to take temperatures, make beds, fill hot water bottles, dispense medications, and perform other hands-on skills. The class was held in a ward-classroom of eight beds. At the beginning of one class our instructor had us press our hands onto a red ink pad. We went about making beds, taking each other’s temperatures and dispensing M & Ms into paper cups to simulate pouring medications.

Within twenty minutes red fingerprints covered the ward. We spent the rest of the class cleaning. The lesson was a visual reminder of how fast and far we would spread bacteria if we didn’t wash our hands well and often enough.

I was reminded of that class this past week when I went looking for an update on the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA). I had one simple question: was it safe to shred receipts, which are coated BPA powder? The answer was not simple.

BPA has at least three strikes against it.

Strike #1: BPA has been in a lot of things: food and beverage containers, water bottles, baby bottles, and baby toys like teething rings. Though some restrictions have been placed on its use, there is still a lot of it around. It is on one very important thing: thermal-paper receipts, those aggravating bits of paper that clutter our purses or fanny pack.

Strike #2: Since thermal papers coatings are a powder BPA rubs off on everything the receipt touches, and it stays there until that object rubs against something else.

Strike #3: Some research indicates that BPA is perhaps more toxic at low-levels than at higher levels.

Come run errands with me.

I start at the bank to get cash from the automatic teller. I also get a paper receipt, which is likely coated with BPA powder. The money has a high probability of being contaminated with bacteria, cocaine, and more BPA powder. Cocaine and bacteria aren’t absorbed through unbroken skin, so unless I have a cut, rash, or chapped hands those two contaminants sit on my skin until I wash my hands. BPA is absorbed through unbroken, healthy skin. As I head for my car, BPA on my hands heads for my blood stream.
Since I’ve stuffed receipts into my purse for ages, everything in there—comb, keys, wallet, cell phone, hand lotion, make-up and so on—is BPA contaminated. Open my car door, now it’s on the door. Touch the steering wheel, now it’s on the steering wheel. Rub my eye, it reaches the blood stream faster through mucous membranes.

At the grocery store, I wipe the cart handle with anti-bacterial wipes the store provides. Great for removing bacteria, but the alcohol plus the rubbing action likely drives BPA through my skin faster.

Do my shopping, go through the checkout, collect another receipt and start the process over.

Or maybe I ask the cashier to put the receipt in the bag with my groceries where it rubs against the bag itself and the cans, jars, and bottles inside, depositing powder. Hopefully my fruits, vegetables, bread, etc. are in bags, but then again, with the desire to be more eco-friendly, I don’t always bother putting fresh food in plastic bags any more. After all, are my apples really going to suffer riding around loose in a cloth shopping bag until I get home? I didn’t think so until today.

When I reach home maybe I leave my receipts in my purse. Maybe I put them in the box where we collect bits of paper needed to balance our check book. Eventually, after doing the balancing act, receipts go into the shredder—must be conscious of identity theft— giving me an opportunity to breathe aerosolized BPA powder and throughly contaminating my shredder.

Off go those clear plastic bags of shredded paper to the recycling center to begin their journey into other kinds of paper, including more cash register receipts and toilet paper, which currently has about a 50% chance of being containing BPA powder and the cycle begins again.

Sometimes it seems that when we solve one problem, we create two in its place.

If you can live with the idea, stop getting receipts. If you can’t live with that idea—I can’t—here are some cleaning tips gleaned from the Internet.

Clean the most highly-contaminated objects and areas, those places where you’ve previously housed receipts: purses, backpacks, glove compartments, cloth grocery bags, boxes where you store household records, shredder, etc. Wash them or at least rinse them with soap and water, using paper towels which are then disposed. Wash or wipe everything that’s been in those areas, like everything in your purse.

To prevent future recontamination, bring a plastic bag with you. Ask the clerk to put the receipt in that bag and close it tightly. If you’re doing self-check out, touch the receipt as little as possible as you put it in the bag.

Never crumple a receipt and throw it away. Apparently crumpling releases the most powder onto your hands.

Wash your hands as soon as you can after handling receipts. At a minimum, wash your hands when you get home. Consider using liquid soap in a dispenser. Rubbing BPA-contaminated hands on bar soap transfers the powder to the soap.

Never shred or recycle receipts. I know, I know. Identity theft and the ecology. I’m not keen on either receipts being out there with my credit card number on them or BPA leaching into landfills, but is that worse than aerosolizing BPA in my office or it ending up in my recycled papers? I honestly don’t know.

Above all, have hope. Someone clever will come up with a solution to all of this.

Quote for the week

Action and reaction, ebb and flow, trial and error, change - this is the rhythm of living. Out of our overconfidence, fear; out of our fear, clear vision, fresh hope. And out of hope, progress.
~ Bruce Barton, (1886 – 1967), author, ad executive—he created Betty Crocker—and member of the U. S. House of Representatives


Anonymous said...

You do write extremely vividly! This is a real wake up call for all of us!!! Thanks. Thelma

TheaM said...

...now I'm concerned about all those unsuspecting cashiers...
certainly an incentive to clean out my purse!

Anonymous said...

Thelma, one study showed that cashiers had 64% more BPA in their urine than women who worked in other jobs.