Fight to Protect Children from Toxic Chemicals Continues

The Maine People’s Alliance continues to maintain 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 saw several positive steps forward in the fight to get toxic chemicals out of consumer products, even as Governor LePage fought new efforts to protect children’s health.

At the end of the previous legislative session, MPA and our allies achieved legislative approval to phase-out BPA from baby food and infant formula packaging – despite opposition from the LePage Administration. Still, Governor LePage managed to slow down our progress: despite persistent public pressure, the Governor vetoed LD 1181, a bipartisan bill which would have required large food packaging companies report the use of the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) in their products. Strong science links BPA to breast cancer, prostate cancer, neurological disorders, and even obesity. It is often used as a lining for metal food packaging and has been shown to leech into the foods with which it comes into contact.

Following the veto, advocates continued to put pressure on Governor LePage to hold him accountable to Mainers and not the chemical industry. At the beginning of the summer, activists kicked off a grassroots campaign to collect postcard messages from across the state demanding Governor LePage take executive action on BPA. The message to Governor LePage was simple – use the power of your office to demand big food packaging companies who do business in Maine voluntarily disclose the use of BPA in their products. In October, activists delivered over 3,000 postcard messages to Governor LePage. Unsurprisingly, the Governor’s office failed to take any meaningful action. Now Maine parents are taking matters into their own hands. Beginning this spring, Maine moms will be reaching out to the largest food packaging companies themselves in an effort to put public pressure on these companies to do the right thing and get BPA out of the products they sell to children.

During this legislative session, ACHM has also worked closely with legislative champions of children’s health to raise the profile of a group of chemicals called phthalates (pronounced THAL-lates). Phthalates are a series of 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.

Throughout Governor LePage’s first term, the Administration’s Department of Environmental Protection has argued that it lacks resources to move forward to protect children from the worst chemicals like phthalates. Last year, a Portland Press Herald investigation by Colin Woodard revealed that the DEP Commissioner appointed by Governor LePage has been stalling toxic chemical reform to the direct benefit of the industry clients she used to serve as a paid lobbyist. Undeterred, advocates will educate lawmakers and the public on the dangers of phthalates, and work to win new policy requiring that major manufacturers disclose their use of phthalates in products.

Alliance members have also been involved with toxics reform at the federal level. This year there have been new efforts to improve upon the decades-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). Under the woefully outdated federal rules, the Environmental Protection Agency has only evaluated about 200 of over 80,000 chemicals on the market today for health and safety, and only about five of those chemicals have been restricted or banned since 1976. A bill to improve the federal chemical safety system called the Chemical Safety Improvement Act (CSIA) has been introduced in the Senate, but still lacks important changes such as requiring federal regulators to test chemicals for their health effects across a variety of consumers, including children and pregnant women, and protecting existing chemical safety laws like Maine’s own Kid Safe Products Act. In October, eight activists, including MPA members Bettyann Sheats and Melissa Dunn, traveled to Washington DC to join 140 other mothers from 40 states as part of the Safe Chemicals Stroller Brigade. While in DC, activists visited with Maine’s Congressional Delegation, asking lawmakers to strengthen and support the Chemical Safety Improvement Act.

No parent wants to expose their children to toxic chemicals in everyday products like phthalates and BPA. Together, MPA and our allies will continue to fight at the state and federal level to make sure that families know what is in the products they are buying, and that we have effective systems in place to ensure that big companies are playing by the rules and creating healthy and safe products for consumers. To join MPA’s work on this important issue, please contact your regional MPA organizer.