AUGUSTA — More than 50 people turned out Tuesday to testify on two bills aimed at narrowing Maine’s Kid Safe Product Act, which developed a process to identify and ban chemicals that pose a danger to children.

Representatives from the toy and chemical industries, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce and the Maine Merchants Association said current law leads to uncertainty because the list of “high concern” chemicals tops 1,700 and includes products such as gasoline, contraceptives and alcohol.

“After three years of seeing the law in place, there are some issues that need to be addressed to make the law more workable and to accomplish its intent of protecting children from toxic chemicals,” said Ben Gilman of the Maine State Chamber. “The current process as established under the law is written so broadly that it goes well beyond children’s products into the realm of consumer products.”

Members of the environmental community and other consumer groups said they understand why industries are concerned. But the state has only moved to regulate two chemicals in three years – proof that the system works, they say. The Environmental and Natural Resources Committee voted unanimously last Friday to ban the sale of sippy cups and similar children’s products containing bisphenol A in Maine as the result of the legislation.

The Kids Safe Product Act also exempts certain industries, including manufacturers, forest products and prescription drugs, from any chemical bans.

“If anything, it’s not working fast enough – we recommended 40 priority chemicals being designated and we only got two,” said Mike Belliveau of the Environmental Health Strategy Center. “So the opposition to the law is having a hard time citing a specific unintended consequence to the law because there have been none. They do have valid anxiety about what might happen at some distant, future date.”

Nearly everyone who testified said they would be willing to work with lawmakers to refine the law to help provide more clarity for the business community.

One of the measures, L.D. 1185, is sponsored by state Rep. Jim Hamper, R-Oxford, one of nine lawmakers out of 186 that voted against the Kid Safe Product Act in 2008. Hamper’s proposal, which he drafted with chemical industry lobbyists, would limit the number of chemicals listed as high priority and the types of products affected by a ban. It also aims to establish “de minimis” – too small to be concerned with – levels of banned chemicals that would be allowed in products.

“The list of potential chemicals, which is excess of 1,700, needs to be narrowed and focused on those which are truly of high priority and the overall process needs to be more focused on the products which are marketed to be used by children,” Hamper told committee members. “These types of changes in the underlying framework, which is what we’re dealing with today, are needed to provide for a far more balanced and predictable regulatory program.”

Hamper said the 2008 debate was dominated by emotion and he encouraged lawmakers to set their emotions aside.

“It was pure emotion. Let’s not do that again, let’s look at what’s best to do here,” he said. But when asked by a lawmaker if his proposal, which critics say would essentially gut the current law, would still protect children, Hamper became emotional.

“I just – I want to take a more rational approach to this whole issue – I don’t consider anything here to put my grandson at risk,” he said, choking up. “Quite honestly, I take offense to emails I receive.”

An alternative proposal, sponsored by state Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, would limit the list of high-concern chemicals to between 10 and 50. The measure would also grant the commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection more flexibility in adding or removing chemicals from the list.

Goodall, who worked with environmental advocates to draft his measure, said it was a “reasonable compromise” that balanced business interests with safety concerns.

“I believe that we should always put the health of our children and our families first but at the same time we have to be realistic about how we implement policy so we don’t tie the hands of business and industry,” he said.

Representatives from Gov. Paul LePage’s administration testified in support of both measures.

“We believe that both of these bills provide useful approaches that address an unworkable process, namely, we support greater flexibility regarding listing and de-listing priority chemicals,” said Carlisle McLean, LePage’s natural resources policy adviser. “We believe we can protect as well as create regulatory certainty.”

The committee will schedule a work session on the bills.

 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Rebekah Metzler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: [email protected]