(AUGUSTA) Dozens of parents, physicians, scientists, and health advocates brought a 20-foot inflatable duck to the State House today and called for more action to protect kids from the most dangerous chemicals found in everyday products. For the second day in a row, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee held public hearings on bills that will guide Maine’s future actions to reduce children’s exposure to BPA and other toxic chemicals in the home.
Calling it “Healthy Kids Day”, moms from all over Maine hosted a rally and press conference outside the Governor’s office and then gathered around a giant inflatable duck that was set up in the patio area outside the building. Many brought items from home that contain phthalates, parabens, BPA, and other chemicals on the state’s list of “Chemicals of High Concern”.
“As a mom, I am proud of the actions Maine has taken to protect our children from unsafe chemicals like BPA,” said Lalla Carothers, a mother of two from Cumberland. “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.”
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 by the LePage Administration to reduce exposure to these chemicals, leaving parents, businesses, and health professionals frustrated and calling on lawmakers for information and action.
“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 furniture, food, or shampoo. 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.”
Maine Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall (D-Richmond) has introduced a bill, LD 1181: “An Act To Further Protect Pregnant Women and Children from Toxic Chemicals", that will identify which products contain these 49 worst chemicals
and establish next steps for action to get these chemicals out of products that Maine children encounter every day in their homes.
“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.”
Goodall’s bill will also close the controversial food packaging loophole in the Kid-Safe Products Act and allow for an eventual phase-out of BPA from all canned food. Canned food is considered the greatest source of BPA exposure among pregnant women and it is estimated that overall BPA exposure could be reduced by two thirds if food packaging were BPA-free.
“The BPA loophole is arbitrary and dangerous. It puts older children and pregnant women at continued risk of the hormone havoc of BPA,” stated Tracie Konopinski of Toxics Action Center. “What parent would be comfortable protecting some of their children but not others? Closing the BPA loophole is simple and common sense. We owe it to Maine kids and families”
“This is about BPA in food and it’s also about so much more,” remarked Erica Lowell, a mother of two from Gray who has a son with autism. “This is about 49 other chemicals that are all proven to harm kids and all found in our bodies or used in products that come into our homes. These are the worst-of-the-worst. No child should face the life-long challenges my son is facing because he or she was exposed to BPA at the dinner table, or to parabens in his shampoo, or to phthalates in her bathtub toys. Moms are here until this gets fixed!”
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 Thursday stated that unless the Healthy Kids Bill passes, 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 Emily Figdor, Director of Environment Maine. “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.”
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. And 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 need for action is clear and common sense,” 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. “And while the chemical industry is likely to respond like the tobacco industry has done in the past, by trying to inject doubt and blind policy makers to the realities of the mounting evidence, it is our responsibility to protect the next generation from chemicals that could have a devastating impact on their health.”
The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine is a coalition of over 50 public health, medical, parent, community, women’s, worker, environmental, and public interest organizations dedicated to protecting public health and the environment by replacing unnecessary dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives. www.cleanandhealthyme.org