Clock is Ticking for DEP to Take Action on Toxic Phthalates

The Maine People’s Alliance continues to play an active role in the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine (ACHM), a coalition of environmental and public health groups working to ensure Maine’s children are protected from dangerous chemicals lurking in everyday products. This year, the coalition kicked off an aggressive grassroots campaign to force the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to take action on a set of chemicals called phthalates (pronounced thal-lates).

Phthalates are dangerous chemicals that disrupt the male hormone testosterone during prenatal and early childhood development. They are commonly found in consumer products that use soft vinyl plastics like lunchboxes, backpacks and shower curtains. They are also found in fragrances used in cosmetics and lotions. However, unless a consumer has a professional chemical testing lab at their disposal, little information exists about which products specifically use phthalates to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions. What’s worse is that Maine has the power to take action to protect children from dangerous chemicals through the Kid-Safe Products Act (KSPA), but in the four years that Governor LePage has been in office, he has opted to do nothing.

His intransigence has mirrored his approach to another toxic, hormone-disrupting chemical, Bisphenol-A (BPA), which LePage famously joked that he wouldn’t regulate because the worst that would happen is that exposure might give some women “little beards.”

Last spring, tired of inaction from the LePage administration, activists collected and delivered over 2,000 petition signatures from Mainers across the state to the DEP to force them to consider a rule require major manufacturers to disclose their use of phthalates to the DEP. This right-to-know rulemaking would help consumers and open up the possibility for future intervention under KSPA.

In late July, mothers, public health experts, small business owners and lawmakers crowded into a hearing room in Augusta to testify in support of the proposed rulemaking. Advocates spoke fiercely about the right for consumers to know if the products they purchase possess toxic phthalates and that the burden of proof should fall to chemical companies - not Maine parents. No one present at the hearing testified against the rule, though it’s expected that out-of-state chemical companies will be lobbying and fighting the rule from behind closed doors.

While the DEP now has 120 days to consider the rule, it is likely going to prolong the process as long as possible to avoid taking action. MPA and allied organizations will continue to put pressure the Department to stand with Maine parents over the chemical industry and make sure that the problem of toxic chemicals like phthalates can’t be ignored. To join MPA’s work on this important issue, please contact your regional MPA organizer.