For the past decade, Maine has pioneered common-sense public health policies to protect its citizens – and particularly its children – from exposure to unsafe chemicals.

For decades, the chemical industry has been able to prevent federal action on chemicals that come into our homes, schools and workplaces – even known killers like asbestos.

Rather than accept the broken system in Washington, D.C., Maine has charted a new path, adopting laws to replace lead, mercury and toxic flame retardant chemicals with safer alternatives, and becoming one of the first states to begin phasing out the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol A. Maine’s actions have been felt, and applauded, all over the country, with other states following suit.

This week, the Maine Board of Environmental Protection will meet to consider a proposal from Maine moms and doctors to end the use of BPA in infant formula and baby food packaging. Maine should take the next step, and lead our country forward.

The Maine Legislature overwhelmingly endorsed the state’s phase-out of BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups in response to the hundreds of scientific studies linking early life BPA exposure to long-lasting impacts on reproduction, impaired brain development, a predisposition to breast and prostate cancer, and increased risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

The use of BPA in children’s products is a source of exposure during one of the most critical periods of development. There is no logical distinction to be made between preventing exposure for infants and children from baby bottles and sippy cups, but not from food packaging. The BPA is the same, and the exposure is the same.

Opponents of taking additional action on BPA cite the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s refusal to replace BPA in food packaging because of debates about the effects of “low-dose” exposure to BPA.
If circulating levels of active BPA in the body are low – and that is an ongoing area of research – there continue to be reports of harmful effects found at these low levels.

Recent research finds that low levels of BPA exposure cause harm in the mammary glands, prostate tissue and brain. The new science continues to be compelling and has not diminished our conviction that a hormonally active chemical such as BPA has no place in our food supply.

While the chemical industry thrives on a system in which any chemical is “safe” until it can be conclusively and exhaustively proven to cause harm, public health demands a different approach based on action when harm is clear and safer alternatives are available.

The sluggish and industry-friendly inaction of the FDA only underscores why Maine must lead and not follow. The FDA has not stated that BPA is safe in the food supply, and it has continued to study the chemical.

The FDA’s previous safety reviews in 2008 and again in 2010 were both firmly rebuked by external scientists for failing to adequately represent the science.

In 2009, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel broke the story that key sections of the 2008 FDA assessment of BPA actually had been written by chemical industry lobbyists. The FDA staffer directly in charge of that effort recently left the agency, and is now a lobbyist for the chemical industry and has testified in Maine opposing action on BPA.

Unfortunately, Gov. LePage has signaled his opposition to the new ban, citing the Food and Drug Administration’s failure to act on the issue. But why should parents in Maine allow the chemical industry’s control of the FDA to determine whether their children get the protection they deserve?

It is more than a little ironic that one of the nation’s first tea party governors would be using the Obama administration as a beard to hide his own fealty to the chemical industry.

Maine has already made history – rejecting reliance on Washington and the scare campaigns of the chemical industry – crafting sensible solutions for itself. It should continue that sound and bipartisan approach by getting BPA out of baby food packaging.

Daniel Rosenberg is senior attorney with the health and environment program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Sarah Janssen is a senior scientist with the program.