(BANGOR) Seven legislators will be joining the list of two dozen Mainers being tested next month for hormone-disrupting chemicals in their bodies. As part of a new “bio-monitoring” project being conducted in Maine, three Republican and four Democratic lawmakers, past and present, will join 18 other Mainers in having their urine tested for toxic chemicals known as phthalates (pronounced ‘THAL-eights’).
Former Speaker of the House Hannah Pingree is now a mother of two young children and one of the seven participating lawmakers. She is also the only one who has been tested for toxic chemicals before. In 2006 Pingree participated in the “Body of Evidence” project that tested 13 Maine people for the presence of 71 dangerous chemicals in their bodies. Pingree had the highest level of mercury and the second highest level of phthalates in the group.
“The results in 2006 were very surprising to me,” stated Pingree. “Of course I wondered, where did all these high levels of toxic chemicals come from? We know that phthalates are dangerous and that they’re widely used in soft plastic products and fragrances – products we often have in our homes. But we don’t know which products are safe and which ones aren’t. If parents and pregnant women had good information about which products contain phthalates, we could start reducing exposure right away.”
Megan Rice, a mother of two from Belgrade, joined the lawmakers this morning at the Bangor Children’s Museum. Standing next to a table covered in products suspected of containing phthalates, Rice stated, “I’m tired of my kids being exposed to toxic chemicals. It doesn’t matter that I have spent countless hours researching products and reading labels, trying to buy safer products. The fact is that every day since they've been born, my girls have been guinea pigs for the chemical industry. So today I'm officially making myself a guinea pig and getting my body tested for phthalates.”
Earlier this month Maine’s Legislative Council voted to table Legislative Request (LR) 2488, “An Act to Protect the Health of Maine’s Citizens from Toxic Chemical Products”, sponsored by Representative Gay Grant. The proposed new law aims to protect the health of pregnant women and children from phthalates by naming four phthalates
as Priority Chemicals under Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act and requiring major manufacturers to report which of their products contain these phthalates.
Grant’s bill has no fiscal impact on state government and it does not impose a ban on chemicals in products. Instead of approving or rejecting the measure, Maine’s legislative leaders postponed their decision until their next meeting on November 21st.
Joining Pingree in announcing their participation in the testing project were two current State Senators from Penobscot County, Democrats Geoff Gratwick from Bangor and Emily Cain from Orono.
"When kids are healthy, we all benefit. Healthy kids are better able to learn, their parents can be more productive at work, and the overall burden of health costs for families and businesses is lower," said Senator Cain. "Preventing disease rather than paying for it after the fact is just common sense, and as legislators we need to be looking for every opportunity to do just that. That's why Representative Grant’s bill is so important."
Doctors, nurses, parents, and other public health advocates believe Grant’s proposed legislation meets the “emergency” test required for introduction of bills in the Second Session of the Maine Legislature because of the growing body of science showing harm, the proven exposure to phthalates in the home, and the lack of action from the LePage administration.
“Health care providers are all too familiar with the old adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,’" said Senator Gratwick, who is also a practicing physician in Bangor. “This bill is a way to give parents, physicians and other providers the information they need to prevent the potentially devastating health consequences of phthalate exposure."
A growing body of research shows that phthalates disrupt the male hormone androgen during prenatal and early childhood development. The effects can include harm to brain development, birth defects of male sex organs, sperm damage, early puberty in girls, learning and attention problems, asthma and other immune system problems.
Phthalates are commonly used in consumer products found in the home, including vinyl plastics like rain jackets, lunch boxes, kids’ backpacks, school supplies, packaging, and flooring. They are also used in fragrances, where they end up in cosmetics, lotions, and other personal care products. It is estimated that the health of 14,000 pregnant women and 40,000 infants and toddlers in Maine is at risk from exposure to phthalates in their homes.
Republican House member Don Marean from Hollis will also be part of the testing project. “I went to Augusta to help people, and one way I can do that is to make sure we take simple no-cost steps to keep our kids healthy and our health costs as low as possible,” said Marean in a statement. “I am very happy to be part of this testing, and I am looking forward to working on legislation in January that will help us all find out where phthalates are used so we can protect Maine kids and pregnant women from this invisible threat to our families and our pocketbooks.”
Other legislators participating in the bio-monitoring testing include Republican Representative Corey Wilson from Augusta, Democratic Representative Gay Grant from Gardiner, and former Republican Representative Meredith Strang-Burgess from Cumberland.
The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine will coordinate the bio-monitoring project, recruiting 25 participants from diverse geographic areas. A urine sample will be collected from each participant, which will be analyzed by a public health laboratory.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of new results from testing coordinated by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). Their research found high levels of phthalates in SpongeBob SquarePants vinyl rain ponchos at levels nearly seven times higher than the federal safety threshold above which the federal Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has banned phthalates in toys and products marketed to children under age three.
The CPSC limit does not apply to rain jackets and Megan Rice says this underscores the need for state legislative action. “Too many pregnant women and children encounter phthalates up close and personal every day,” stated Rice. “It’s time for action in Augusta so we can protect our young boys and girls from the hormone havoc and reproductive harm of phthalates.”
In 2008 Pingree led the effort to pass Maine’s chemical safety legislation, called the Kid-Safe Products Act. “Five years ago, with nearly unanimous bipartisan support, we passed a fantastic law to protect our kids,” stated Pingree. “But we have barely used it. We haven’t taken action on a single chemical besides BPA. Phthalates are the obvious chemicals to target next because there is overwhelming scientific evidence linking phthalates to serious health effects, especially in young boys. Maine kids are growing every day and women are getting pregnant every day. We can’t afford to waste any more time doing nothing about phthalates.”
BACKGROUND ON SPONGE BOB TESTING
The SpongeBob SquarePants report can be found at: http://chej.org/2013/10/new-testing-elevated-levels-of-phthalates-in-spo.... The SpongeBob SquarePants testing was coordinated by the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ): www.chej.org. The SpongeBob SquarePants rain poncho was purchased by CHEJ at Toys R Us in Times Square, New York City and tested for phthalates and other chemicals of concern. CHEJ then sent the product to a Consumer Products Safety Commission-certified laboratory. The lab found SpongeBob vinyl poncho contained 6,600 parts per million (ppm) of the phthalate Bis(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate (DEHP). This value is nearly seven times greater than the maximum value of 0.1% or 1000 ppm considered safe by the Consumer Products Safety Commission for children’s toys and products marketed to children under age three.
BACKGROUND ON BIO-MONITORING PROJECT
The purpose of the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine’s 2014 bio-monitoring project is to offer a snapshot of phthalate levels of toxic chemicals in a group of Maine people. Twenty five participants will be selected to include people of diverse geographic and occupational backgrounds. Urine samples will be sent to a CDC-certified laboratory which will analyze the samples. Participants will have an option to opt out of the study at any time if they do not want their samples to be tested or if they wish their results to remain private.
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