Dirty money

Bisphenol A, that pervasive endocrine-disrupting chemical, has now shown up on paper money. It’s the latest in a long list of objects carrying BPA. Others include thermal cash receipts—which may transfer BPA onto bills in people’s wallets—canned food, dental sealants and several plastic bottles.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, collected 52 paper bills from different countries—the U.S. to Egypt to Singapore and Kuwait, to name a few—and then analyzed them for BPA. All of the bills tested contained a detectable level of BPA, ranging from almost nothing to very high amounts. Brazil’s bills tended to have the highest concentrations of it. And older bills had higher levels of BPA than newer bills.

Researchers aren’t sure how BPA ended up tainting the bills, though the chemical has also turned up in ink and recycled paper, which are used to make paper money.

One concern is that BPA can be absorbed by the skin, and, like cash receipts, people often handle bills. Some research suggests up to 27 percent of BPA can be transported to the bloodstream within two hours of skin exposure. It can also be inhaled.

BPA, which has been found in more than 90 percent of the U.S. population, has been linked to reproductive, metabolic and behavioral problems in adults and animals.

There has been some attempt to ban certain products with BPA, such as baby bottles, sippy cups and toys—and many manufacturers have voluntarily made BPA-free versions of these.

A recent proposal to ban products with BPA comes from Multnomah County chair Jeff Cogen in Oregon. He wants to enact a countywide ban on selling baby bottles and some other plastic products made with BPA, as well as create a system for labeling and certifying products made without BPA. Yet, as evidence of the widespread reach of BPA mounts, such bans may also have to include newsprint, pizza boxes, the air—all of which have been shown to carry BPA—and now money. A politician banning money is not likely.