LCQ4: Health risks of thermal paper containing Bisphenol A
Following is a question by the Dr Hon Chiang Lai-wan and a written reply by the Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (November 8):
Currently, thermal paper is widely used for printing boarding passes, lottery tickets of gambling activities, cash register receipts, etc. It has been reported that the colour-developer coating on most thermal paper contains Bisphenol A (BPA). Some studies have found that BPA can be absorbed by the body through skin contact, and excessive intake of BPA may cause endocrine disorder, or may even induce diseases such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether, in the past three years, it conducted laboratory tests on the thermal paper currently used for receipts printed and issued by various government departments and public organisations, to find out if such paper contained BPA; if so, of the results of such tests; if not, the reasons for that;
(2) whether it will conduct regular sample tests on the BPA level of the thermal paper available for sale in the market, and publish the results of such tests for public information; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(3) as it has been reported that both Taiwan and Japan have banned the use of BPA-containing thermal paper, and the European Union has also announced that the sale of thermal paper with a BPA level equal to or greater than 0.02 per cent (by weight) will be banned starting from January 2020, whether the Government will introduce legislation to ban the sale of BPA-containing thermal paper so as to safeguard public health; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;
(4) whether it will consider providing incentives to encourage various industries to use BPA-free thermal paper; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
(5) whether it has measures put in place to raise the awareness of the public (especially people such as cashiers who frequently come into contact with thermal paper) of the health risks posed by BPA, in the hope that they will take measures (such as wearing gloves) to avoid long-time skin contact with BPA-containing thermal paper; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?
Having consulted the Food and Health Bureau, the Department of Health (DH), the Customs & Excise Department (C&ED) and the Labour Department, my consolidated reply to the five parts of the question is as follows:
Bisphenol A is a chemical that has been widely used in industries for many years, such as in plastics, resins and thermal paper.
According to DH, the acute toxicity of bisphenol A is low, and there is currently no evidence to prove that bisphenol A is carcinogenic to humans. To date, bisphenol A has not been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer under the World Health Organization (WHO). According to the scientific data of WHO and the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), some recent animal experimental studies have shown that low dose of bisphenol A can adversely affect the nervous system, puberty period behavior and reproductive system of animals. However, other animal researches have shown no effect. The inconsistency of the results has led to scientific controversy over safety of bisphenol A. Nevertheless, since bisphenol A is rapidly metabolised in human body and excreted through urine, it is believed that exposure to low dose of bisphenol A through thermal paper should not cause similar adverse effects on humans.
In 2015, the EFSA set the tentative daily tolerable intake of bisphenol A at four microgram per kilogram body weight per day. EFSA also assessed the body's ingestion of bisphenol A from different means (intake of dietary and non-dietary means, including exposure to thermal paper) and the result showed that total bisphenol A intake was low with reference to the tentative daily tolerable intake, and considered the public health risk to be low.
As the actual impact of bisphenol A in thermal paper on human health is uncertain, government departments and agencies did not conduct any test on thermal paper in the past three years. The Labour Department has no occupational safety promotion program related to the use of thermal paper containing bisphenol A. The relevant departments and agencies will continue to keep abreast of the relevant information and take appropriate follow-up actions when necessary.
The safety of thermal paper which is ordinarily supplied for private use or consumption in the Hong Kong market is subject to the regulation of the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance (CGSO) and its subsidiary legislation, Consumer Goods Safety Regulation. According to the CGSO, consumer goods have to comply with the "general safety requirement", which imposes a duty on manufacturers, importers and suppliers of consumer goods to ensure that the consumer goods are reasonably safe, having regard to all circumstances.
When determining whether a product is reasonably safe, C&ED will conduct tests on products of different categories in accordance with the applicable international safety standards or specifications. C&ED will keep in view the information and reports of relevant international regulatory agencies and conduct risk assessments to identify potentially unsafe product categories. Based on the result of risk assessments, C&ED will initiate appropriate follow-up actions, including spot checks and sample tests on products. As at the end of October this year, C&ED has not received any complaint in relation to the safety of thermal paper. However, C&ED would follow up on thermal paper which is ordinarily supplied for private use or consumption, and, if necessary, conduct product tests and seek DH's advice on the safety of the products, before considering appropriate follow-up actions.
Ends/Wednesday, November 8, 2017