‘I was shocked’: Harmful chemicals found in receipts across the Puget Sound region

A KIRO 7 investigation found chemicals that can be harmful to your health in receipts across Western Washington as stores prepare for a new ban requiring them to switch their paper by 2026.

Washington is the first state to ban the class of chemicals known as bisphenols. According to the Washington Department of Ecology, bisphenols can be hazardous to the reproductive systems of humans and animals and have been linked to obesity and attention disorders.

While many people have heard of bisphenol-A, or BPA, few have heard of bisphenol-S, or BPS.

“That’s a new one,” shopper Ava Rogers said outside QFC. “New worry to think about.”

And while some people no longer get receipts at all, others still get them at the gas station, grocery store, and while buying gifts for the holidays.

“I’m just holding my receipt on me because why not,” shopper Paul Saylor said.

When it comes to kids, doctors say you should think twice before giving them a receipt.

“How often do you see parents grabbing the receipt and handing it to their kid?” KIRO 7 reporter Linzi Sheldon asked Safeway worker Kyong Barry.

“I would say one-third that would physically hand it to them,” Barry said. “Usually they’ll tell us, ‘Oh, they want the receipt!’ So we hand it to them.”

Barry said kids sometimes even put the receipts in their mouths.

She’s worked in a grocery store for more than 20 years and is currently the front-end manager at the Safeway on A Street in Auburn. Barry didn’t know about bisphenols in receipts until KIRO 7 told her.

“I was shocked,” she said.

“Is there any way to avoid touching those receipts?” Sheldon asked.

“No,” Barry said. “You have to hand it to the customer. You have to circle a little savings -- how much the customer’s saved. So you’re always touching the thermal paper.”

KIRO 7 collected 32 receipts from Snohomish, King, and Pierce Counties, carefully packed them up as instructed by the Ecology Center in Michigan, and then sent it to their lab for testing.

A couple weeks later, results showed which receipts were bisphenol free: Costco warehouses, CVS, Metropolitan Market, PCC Community Markets, Starbucks, Target, Trader Joe’s, and Whole Foods.

PCC noted that it had switched in 2014.

“I wish that stores like QFC or Safeway, one of the ones that I shop at, that I can afford to shop at, would do something like that,” shopper Ava Rogers said.

Many stores said they were in various stages of switching, whether it was currently in the midst of switching over (Costco gas stations); testing bisphenol-free paper (Ivar’s); switching as soon as possible (Dick’s); or advising KIRO 7 that it would follow the state law (USPS). The list consisted of Costco Gas, Dick’s Drive In, Fred Meyer, Ivar’s, Macy’s, Nordstrom, QFC, Petco, REI, Safeway, Taco Time NW, and USPS. REI noted it had previously switched but had supply chain issues.

Safeway, where Kyong Barry works, declined an on-camera interview but said in a statement that it’s “pursuing solutions to transition to BPS-free receipt tape prior to the Washington state legislation deadline.”

Nearly a dozen stores didn’t reply at all to KIRO 7′s requests for responses: 7-Eleven, Bartell Drugs, Chipotle, Grocery Outlet, Home Depot, Joann, MOD Pizza, Ross Dress for Less, Subway, Walmart, and WinCo Foods. H-Mart had inconclusive results and did not respond to an email.

KIRO 7 showed the results to Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana, with UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s Research Institute. She’s a pediatrician and environmental health specialist.

“In adults we’ve seen it related more to metabolism, obesity,” she said. “You can, unfortunately, potentially have impacts from these low levels of exposure. That’s one of the characteristics of the bisphenols.”

The Sathyanarayana Lab studies how these chemicals affect children and pregnant women.

She worries about the effects of BPS, giving the findings on its chemical cousin, BPA.

“For the baby, it can affect many different organ systems that are developing,” she said. “We’re specifically concerned about the nervous system… So I’m hoping that either parents do not give these receipts to their kids or they choose not to get receipts at all.”

But if you do have to handle or keep receipts, experts say you can reduce your risks by folding the paper with the text side in; wearing gloves or washing your hands afterwards; taking a photo instead of keeping the physical receipt; and not using hand sanitizer right before, as some studies show that speeds up how fast your skin can absorb these chemicals.

“It’s eye opening,” Kyong Barry said.

She said she’ll be wearing gloves if she’s at the cash register handling receipts and will be telling her customers to use their app to track purchases instead of getting a paper receipt.

But she wants to know why Safeway hasn’t already switched.

“Why don’t we get rid of these thermal receipt tapes now?” she asked. “You know, why wait?”

The Northwest Grocery Association sent KIRO 7 a statement, which read in part, “The health and safety of our employees and customers is a top priority for our entire membership… our members are actively working with suppliers to ensure there will be adequate supply to transition Washington stores to BPS-free receipt tape by January 1, 2026, in accordance with Washington state law.”

The association stated that it transitioning to new BPS-free receipt tape in one state will require retailers to transition in all states where they operate.

Washington is also the first state to run a bisphenol receipt paper replacement program to help some businesses overcome the financial barriers to switching. Qualifying businesses can receive up to $250 for drop-in replacement paper, $750 for replacement cash register, and $1000 for a point-of-sale machine.

KIRO7′s CMG sister stations tested more than 240 receipts across 8 states. You can see all our results here:

Receipt Collection by KIRO 7 Seattle on Scribd