AUGUSTA — Frustrated by the LePage administration’s handling of a toxics law, environmental and public health groups are pushing to require that the state consider pregnant women when reviewing and regulating products containing potentially harmful chemicals.
Maine Department of Environmental Protection officials, however, warned that provisions of the bill would create a financial and administrative burden on the DEP, and add uncertainty for businesses.
Enacted in 2008, the Kid-Safe Products Act requires the state to identify chemicals linked to health problems in children, and gives regulators a means to ban the most dangerous ones from products sold in Maine. The law allows the state to consider health effects on pregnant women as well, but does not mandate it.
Maine was the first state to adopt a such a system, and four other states have followed suit.
To date, the DEP has designated five chemicals as “priority chemicals,” which requires manufacturers to report when they use those chemicals in children’s products. In the case of BPA, the department went a step further and banned the chemical – a type of plasticizing agent linked to cancer and childhood development problems – in reusable food and beverage containers as well as in baby food containers. The department has also recommended regulating phthalates, a type of plastics softener also found in shampoos and personal care products.
But critics have accused the department, under Republican Gov. Paul LePage, of dragging its feet on reviewing chemicals.
The bill pending in the Legislature, L.D. 948, would require the DEP to consider the health effects on pregnant women when it reviews potentially harmful chemicals, including phthalates. The bill would also significantly expand the number of chemicals reviewed, and require manufacturers of “priority products” to propose safer alternatives.
“We have a great vehicle for protecting both our children and pregnant women from dangerous chemicals in everyday products,” bill sponsor Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, told members of the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee during a 3 1/2-hour hearing. “Let’s jump-start it and get it going again.”
Among the supporters was Laura Donnelly, a Searsport mother of three and professional midwife whose now 8-year-old son was born with a deformity linked to hormonal disruptions. Several of the chemicals under scrutiny from health groups and the DEP, such as BPA and phthalates, have been found to interfere with hormones in developing children.
While Donnelly said her son is now healthy thanks to surgery, she expressed frustration at the thought that she might have exposed her unborn son to harmful chemicals despite her dogged attempts to avoid exposure. As a midwife, she cautions would-be mothers to avoid such chemicals, but is unable to pinpoint which products to avoid because of a lack of labeling or reporting.
“He should not have had to go through any of that,” Donnelly said of her son. “If I had known about the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in my food and products, I would have carefully avoided them.”
Dr. Jeff Saffer, a retired physician and grandfather of eight, said clear and accurate information on potentially harmful chemicals is not readily available to many parents.
“We have a right to know what is in our products,” Saffer said. “Known, dangerous chemicals are literally right under our noses: inhaled, ingested and slathered on our bodies.”
MAINE A LEADER IN CHEMICAL ID
Maine is regarded as a national leader in the identifying of harmful chemicals in everyday products. Supporters of such laws claim states have been forced to fill the regulatory gap left by the Toxic Substances Control Act, a nearly 40-year-old federal law that critics say allows chemicals into the marketplace without adequate safety testing.
Melanie Loyzim, director of the DEP’s Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, told lawmakers the department has been actively implementing the existing state program. Three new priority chemicals were named in 2014 and DEP rulemaking is underway for five more chemicals.
Loyzim said the bill would significantly expand the workload of DEP – staff would have to review up to 70 high-concern chemicals, which involves attempting to get information from foreign manufacturers.
“This bill would impose significant additional costs on the department to implement, including staff time to review reports, development of a database for tracking annually reported data from hundreds of manufacturers, and further demands on the very limited toxicological support provided by the Maine (Centers for Disease Control),” Loyzim said. “This bill would also continue what is becoming a tradition of uncertainty for businesses.”
Sen. Tom Saviello, a Wilton Republican heavily involved in crafting and tweaking the law, warned supporters that all of the expansions in the bill appear to carry a hefty price tag. And that, Saviello added, means it would likely die in the budget-conscious Legislature if the committee passes it as currently written.