New Legislation Calls for Action to Protect Kids from the Most Dangerous Chemicals

Bill would also close loopholes holding up BPA-free food protections for older children and pregnant women

(Augusta) Last year, Maine named 49 Chemicals of High Concern, a list that identifies chemicals proven through strong, scientific evidence to cause cancer, reproductive problems, and hormone disruption. But no action has been proposed to reduce exposure to these chemicals - until today. Maine Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall announced that he has introduced a new bill, "An Act To Further Protect Pregnant Women and Children from Toxic Chemicals", in order to identify which products contain the 49 ”worst of the worst” chemicals and set priorities for action to get those chemicals out of household products that Maine children encounter every day.

“Protecting children’s health is a top priority for Maine families. They are looking to the Legislature to help them get good information about which household products contain the most harmful chemicals, and to get unnecessary, dangerous chemicals out of everyday products,” said Senator Goodall. “This is an issue we can all come together on. I look forward to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to prevent disease, lower health care costs, and make a difference in the lives of Maine kids.”

At a press conference this morning, parents, health advocates, and a business owner made the case for action to reduce children’s exposure to harmful chemicals and spoke out in favor of Senator Goodall’s bill.

“As a mom, I am proud of the actions Maine has taken to protect our children from unsafe chemicals like BPA,” said Jessica Graham, a mother of two from Waterville. “But our children's health continues to be threatened by exposure to unsafe chemicals in everyday products, like toys, furniture, and even food packaging. I’m glad Maine has done the work to identify 49 of the worst chemicals, but my kids need more than a list; they need action to keep them safe from those chemicals.”

The proposed bill would also close a loophole that currently exempts most food packaging from Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act, so that pregnant women and toddlers can be protected from BPA and other toxic chemicals in their food. Last week the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) decided unanimously to replace the chemical BPA in infant formula and baby food packaging with safer alternatives, and lamented that the loophole prevented them from protecting toddlers and pregnant women.

“Currently the law creates an arbitrary and dangerous line that puts older children and pregnant women at continued risk of the hormone havoc of BPA,” remarked Tracy Gregoire with the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine. “Last week the BEP expressed frustration that they didn’t have the authority to get BPA out of food that pregnant women and toddlers eat. Senator Goodall’s bill responds by removing the loophole that hamstrings Maine regulators from ensuring the safety of food packaging.”

Passage of the Kid-Safe Products Act in 2008 and the amendments adopted in 2011 received overwhelming bipartisan support. For the first time, Maine adopted a system to protect children from the most dangerous chemicals in everyday products. Maine parents, physicians, and businesses have also widely supported the law and believe important progress has been made in the last four years.

But speakers on Tuesday stated that unless the law is updated, progress toward safer chemicals and healthier families will stop. The 2008 law required Maine to propose two priority chemicals for immediate action by January 1, 2011, which happened on time. But no additional priority chemicals have been proposed since 2010, and no more are expected to be named unless the Legislature establishes new action steps.

“Everything required under Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act has been successfully completed. Without new Legislative direction there will likely be no more action,” said Steve Taylor, Program Manager for the Environmental Health Strategy Center. “A list of toxic chemicals won’t protect Maine kids from harm. We need safer products. We need action. Senator Goodall’s bill will provide the guidance needed to ensure that more of the worst chemicals are replaced with safer alternatives; that parents and businesses get good information; and that toddlers and pregnant women can be protected from BPA in their food.”

“No Maine business wants to sell or use dangerous products – especially those destined for our youngest customers,” stated Ellis Percy, specialty food producer, owner of Spruce Bush Farm in Jefferson, and member of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. “Our B&B business is about providing a home away from home. I don’t want that home to include toxic chemicals in the couches, frying pans, or food. And when I put up another batch of dilly beans, I don’t want to use packaging that includes BPA. Senator Goodall’s bill levels the playing field for children of all ages and it helps businesses get good information for ourselves, our customers, and our workers. I think it’s an exciting opportunity to make Maine kids healthier and lower health costs for all of us.”

Scientific evidence shows that chemicals commonly used in household products can lead to expensive chronic diseases, including reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. A University of Maine study estimates that just four environmentally-related childhood diseases in Maine lead to at least $380 million in preventable costs every year.

“Toxic products on store shelves in Maine harm both our economy and our health,” said Abby King, Toxics Policy Advocate for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Every year that we delay action on dangerous chemicals, we unnecessarily spend money to treat preventable illnesses. Legislative action to get toxic products off the shelves will help Maine businesses that want to provide safe products for their customers.”

Research shows that children are particularly vulnerable to the harmful effects of toxic chemicals. Because they are going through rapid development, babies and young children are exposed, pound for pound, to higher levels of toxic chemicals than adults, through umbilical cord blood, breast milk and contaminated house dust from crawling on the floor.

“The magnitude of our efforts should match the magnitude of the problem,” stated Dr. Lani Graham, a family physician and former chief public health officer for Maine who is also a Board member of Physicians for Social Responsibility – Maine Chapter and the co-chair of Maine Medical Association’s Public Health Committee. “The Kid-Safe Products Act has the potential to continue the process of phasing out toxic chemical exposure. We need to give it the teeth to make a difference.”

Posted on 1/29/2013 (Archive on 2/19/2013)