December 20, 2012

Experts: Replace BPA in Maine by using other packaging

Activists are asking the state to ban the chemical in infant and toddler food containers.

AUGUSTA – There is no chemical substitute for the bisphenol-A that is used in infant formula cans and baby food lids.

click image to enlarge

Retired state toxicologist Deborah Rice Ph.D. discusses the need to eliminate the chemical BPA during a press conference earlier this year in Augusta. Scientists, environmentalists and parents testified during a Maine Bureau of Environmental Protection hearing to limit the use of the drug.

Andy Malloy / Staff Photographer

However, companies can use a different type of packaging to keep the food safe, a report from a New York environmental consulting firm has concluded.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection hired TechLaw Inc. of East Chatham, N.Y., to analyze alternatives to BPA, a chemical used to line cans and lids and prevent bacterial contamination.

Some studies have shown that BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical that could be linked to diabetes, obesity and heart disease, as well as problems with brain development and reproduction.

That's why a group of mothers, led by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, turned in signatures in June to ask the state Board of Environmental Protection to ban BPA in infant and toddler food containers.

Maine already has banned the chemical from baby bottles, sippy cups and other reusable food and beverage containers.

"The state's own experts agree: There's no need to expose our children to BPA, because safer alternatives are widely available," Amanda Sears, associate director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said in a statement. "We urge swift action by the board to eliminate this dangerous chemical from food packaging."

On Thursday, the board considered the highly technical 156-page report from TechLaw. The report was necessary because none of the eight manufacturers that would be affected by a ban fully complied with a state request for information, said Kerri Malinowski, who runs the safer chemicals program at the Department of Environmental Protection.

TechLaw found that polyethylene could be a good alternative.

"There was no clear drop-in chemical that can be used in the same way for those packages," Malinowski said. "However, there are other packages that can be used."

Board members, who will meet again Jan. 3 to continue discussions about the possible expansion of the BPA ban in Maine, said they need to get more information about the costs associated with alternatives to BPA. Board Chairman Robert Foley said he is also concerned about how to define toddler food.

As an example, he said children may eat peas from a can that may not be made specifically for toddlers.

"How we define that is really going to be the million-dollar-question," he said.

State Toxicologist Andrew Smith said he would consider whether a ban will make a big difference in what Maine children are eating.

"If the market has already decided it's going to act and already largely removed BPA, is there much opportunity for significant exposure reduction?" he said.

Board member Wing Goodale said testimony to the board indicated that 94 percent of the market already has switched to non-BPA packaging for baby and toddler food. He said when the board adopted the ban on sippy cups in 2010, the reasoning was that the industry already was headed in that direction, so the state wanted to codify a ban in law.

The Legislature upheld the rule in 2011, despite opposition from Gov. Paul LePage, who let it become law without his signature.

Any recommendation from the environmental board will go to the Legislature for approval. If a ban is recommended, the earliest it could take effect is September.

"The issue comes down to comparable pricing," Foley said.

Staff Writer Susan Cover can be contacted at 621-5643 or at:

scover@mainetoday.com

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