BPA: Possible Water Contaminant

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

State health officials acknowledge concerns over bisphenol-A (BPA), but so far offer no public safety guidelines. “We don’t have any programs that are dealing with that right now,” said Annemarie Beardsworth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.

In addition to plastic containers, bags and metal cans, BPA is a common coating found on cash register and credit card receipts. A study by Environmental Working Group found 40 percent of receipts contained BPA.  

Beardsworth suggested taking precautions against coming into contact with BPA, including the handling of paper receipts. “It’s just another reminder that washing your hands is important.” And, “Wearing gloves is certainly an option.”

These potentially hazardous receipts are all printed on thermal paper, and some are now BPA-free. Appleton, the nations largest manufacturer of thermal paper, stopped using BPA because of health concerns in 2006. It now offers a receipt with another paper coating, bisphenol-S (BPS), which is identified by tiny red fibers on the back of the receipt. There are no official reports on BPS’s safety record. But the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with private industry, is expected to issue a list of recommended BPA alternatives by May. 

In Rhode Island, as with other cash-strapped states, funding has impeded an investigation into the public health risks surrounding BPA. “It’s just with our limited resources and staff we have to prioritize; we just don’t have the staff right now,” Beardsworth said. And it’s an issue that likely needs federal backing. “Because this is a national issue it would be fair to come from a national level.” 

But Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Vermont and Wisconsin have banned BPA in products for infants and children. Washington has banned BPA in all plastic bottles. Chicago and Canada have banned baby bottles with BPA. 

Recycling these plastics, cans and receipts, may be good for reducing energy and trash, but it also seems to be putting BPA into wastewater, and eventually drinking water. 

For now, however, the Department of Health (DOH), along with state Department of Environmental Management, will focus on lead poisoning, lead inspectors and drinking water quality. 

“(The DOH) closely monitors public water, regardless of what the chemical is. If the water is not safe for drinking we let them know about it,” Beardsworth said. 

Rhode Island has no specific test for measuring BPA in the water supply. But unsafe BPA levels do register, Beardsworth said, and that can prompt a boil-your-water advisory. No advisories relating to BPA have been issued in recent years. Not all water districts use the DOH for water testing, but they too must notify the public of unsafe levels of BPA. The current U.S. limit set by the EPA for exposure to BPA is 50 micrograms per kilogram per day.