Receipt Risk: We found potentially dangerous chemicals in receipts all across the metro

ATLANTA — It’s holiday shopping time and Channel 2 Action News has found that all of those receipts you’re collecting could be risky.

We lab-tested receipts from all kinds of local businesses, both big and small—including PetSmart, Kroger and Chipotle. Channel 2 Action News has found in most of them that they contain toxins so harmful, they can lead to cancer and reproductive issues.

Every time you buy something whether it be at the grocery store, a restaurant or a gas station, you’re asked, “Do you want a receipt?”

In fact, stores recommend hanging onto our receipts in case of returns. But most of them contain BPA or BPS, which are chemicals used in thermal paper that activate with heat.

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The reason why we worry about a chemical like BPA and BPS is that when they get into our bodies, they act like estrogen and disrupt other hormones in our bodies,” said Laura Vandenberg, a professor of environmental health at UMass-Amherst.

Vandenberg studied people with receipts inside the university’s cafeteria in 2017.

“They weren’t just holding it between their fingers. It was on their palm; it was on all of their fingers,” Vandenberg said.

She found that the average handling time was 10 minutes. It was enough to cause her alarm, despite the FDA deeming certain amounts of BPA and BPS safe.

“When we look at people who have higher levels of exposure, they’re more likely to have metabolic disease, they’re more likely to have neurological conditions, they’re more likely to develop certain cancers and fertility problems.

The concern led the FDA to ban BPA use in bottles and sippy cups and most manufacturers switched to BPS. But scientists say BPS could be even more toxic.


Bill Brown is the owner of a DeKalb County gastropub called “There,” which is still struggling after the pandemic.

“Taxes. And now all of a sudden, contaminated receipt paper. The list is never-ending,” Brown told Channel 2 investigative reporter Sophia Choi. “I’m not happy.”

His receipts tested positive for BPA. He’s now concerned for his employees.

“In addition to subcutaneously getting it through their fingers, there’s an opportunity for them to introduce it to their system, licking their fingers to pull the papers apart,” Brown said.

“There” is one of more than 30 metro Atlanta restaurants, stores and gas stations, we tested for BPA and BPS in receipts.

Channel 2 Action News worked with our sister stations across eight states and collected 245 receipts in all.

We then carefully packaged them up and sent them off to the Ecology Center Lab in Michigan.

The testing showed that 80% of the receipts contained BPS.

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“If you touch this coated surface, it’s on your fingers, guaranteed. It’s not bound to anything. It’s actually in quite high concentration and comes off onto everything,” Ecology Center scientist Gillian Miller said.

The chemicals get into your system through your skin. Scientists say hand sanitizers make it worse --increasing the absorption, by more than 100 times.

Babies are especially vulnerable.

“You can change their development in ways that you can’t un-change later on,” Vandenberg said.

To minimize your exposure, scientists say you should fold your receipt and avoid touching the ink. Or better yet just take a picture of it before tossing it or get it emailed or texted to you.

“Say, ‘No thanks,’ when it comes to a paper receipt,” Vandenberg said.

Now that Brown knows his receipts contain BPA, he’s putting in a new order.

“There’s no warnings on these products that say it has these chemicals,” Brown said. “I will make certain that when I order this paper that it is free of these contaminants.

Like Brown, some of the bigger companies across the metro and the country say they’re now switching to nontoxic options including Trader Joe’s, Costco, Walgreens and Target.