CUMBERLAND – The story is always the same, whether I’m talking to a small business owner, a middle-class family, a low-income single parent or the shareholders of one of Maine’s larger corporations:

Our families, our businesses, and our state economy are all struggling to make ends meet under the heavy burden of high health care costs.

While there are many approaches that could potentially ease the strain on our complicated health care system and ultimately on our pocketbooks, none is more obvious and common sense than this: Let’s prevent costly diseases before they happen by keeping people healthy and out of the health care system.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 75 cents of every dollar spent on health care is due to a chronic condition, such as diabetes, cancer, asthma or autism. Meanwhile, almost half of all Americans are now living with at least one chronic illness.

The good news is, chronic diseases are mostly preventable and Maine has been a national leader in confronting their root causes. We’ve taken aggressive steps to reduce tobacco and alcohol use among our young people. We’ve eliminated exposure to secondhand smoke in most public places.

We’ve invested in community efforts to increase physical activity and healthy eating habits. And we’ve passed ground-breaking legislation to get toxic chemicals out of products intended for children.

It’s both a slogan and a reality that as Maine goes, so goes the nation. The Safe Chemicals Act currently before the U.S. Senate is modeled in part after Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act.

KSPA is a national model for protecting children from harmful chemicals in consumer products. I was proud to be part of its nearly unanimous passage by the Maine Legislature in 2008. The law creates a simple and straightforward system to identify the worst-of-the-worst toxic chemicals in children’s products, replace them with safer alternatives, and help consumers and retailers get good information.

Maine has made some progress, but it’s inefficient for states to go it completely alone. The federal system for managing industrial chemicals needs an overhaul. The national Toxic Substances Control Act has failed to require chemicals to be tested (only 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals in commerce have been fully tested for health and safety threats; only five have been restricted), failed to identify chemicals of highest concern and failed to offer any commonsense restrictions that could reduce expensive chronic disease.

Businesses have been left on their own to research what chemicals are in products, what dangers these chemicals could pose and how to respond to public concerns. Instead, they face potential liability from the use of hazardous materials while navigating an unstable regulatory environment.

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 is a much-needed cure for what ails us. This bill would establish minimum health and safety data on all chemicals in commerce and require a standard of safety that explicitly protects pregnant women and children — those most at risk of experiencing the dangerous health effects from exposure that lead to higher health costs for all of us.

While this is an excellent start, Congress also needs to take the next step, as Maine has done, in identifying the most dangerous chemicals and requiring them to be phased out in favor of safer alternatives.

The Safe Chemicals Act of 2010 is an excellent opportunity for Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to bring Maine’s common-sense approach to preventing disease and reducing health costs to Washington.

The reality is, we can’t afford not to take action. A recent University of Maine study concluded that just four environmentally related childhood diseases results in $380 million in costs every year in Maine.

We all pay the price for preventable chronic disease. It’s time for Congress to follow Maine’s lead and pass the Safe Chemicals Act so we can improve the health and economic prospects for Maine families and businesses.