Saturday, December 7, 2013
YARMOUTH - Parents today are faced with a new dilemma: How do we know what products on the store shelves are safe for our kids?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jeffrey Peterson, M.D., is a pediatrician from Yarmouth and serves on the board of the Maine Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility, a liberal advocacy group.
I'd like to be able to tell parents that there's no need to worry -- that there's a coordinated national system in place that requires chemicals to be tested for safety before they are used in children's products, that requires manufacturers to disclose the chemical components of their products, and that requires dangerous chemicals to be quickly phased out in favor of safer alternatives.
Sadly, that's simply not the case. As a result, parents are left in the dark and children are left at risk.
The good news is that some states, including Maine, are taking action. Maine's Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) is currently considering a proposal under this law to name bisphenol-A (BPA) as Maine's first Priority Chemical under the 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act, and ban its use in reusable food and beverage containers. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that supports this recommendation.
BPA is a widely used synthetic chemical that's a building block of polycarbonate plastics. It's been used in baby bottles, sippy cups, reusable water bottles and food containers, food can linings, toys, household appliances and many other everyday products in our homes, offices and schools.
BPA is an endocrine disrupting chemical that can mimic or block hormones and disrupt normal functions. A growing body of research by independent scientists links BPA to breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, reproductive damage, learning and behavioral disabilities and obesity. Exposure in the womb, during infancy, or in early childhood can create a lifetime of health problems.
BPA can interfere with the normal mechanisms which regulate hunger and appetite leading to obesity, disrupt the regulation of blood sugar contributing to diabetes, and interfere with progression of pubertal development in children.
Hundreds of independent, peer-reviewed scientific studies have established these connections between BPA exposure and adverse health outcomes. That's why the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention concurred that Maine should act to protect our children from BPA.
Yet the American Council on Science and Health continues to suggest that the best advice for parents is to "not worry" about BPA -- that the evidence is not damning enough, and that a handful of industry-funded studies should be relied upon to prove BPA's safety.
The American Council on Science and Health has been funded for years by conservative foundations, trade associations and major corporations that defend toxic chemicals, food additives, junk food and other health threats against government action. Fortunately, Maine parents are smart enough not to believe the chemical industry hype.
Safer alternatives to BPA are already in widespread use and many businesses have already taken action. Walmart, Babies R Us, Gerber and Evenflo are phasing out products made with BPA. Many infant formula makers offer BPA-free packaging. These companies are already taking responsible action to protect children.
The proposal before the Maine Board of Environmental Protection is a good start, but doesn't go far enough to protect our children. We also need to eliminate the greatest source of BPA exposure to young children: food packaging. BPA leaches from the linings of metal cans and lids to significantly contaminate infant formula, baby food and food items intentionally marketed for toddlers.
Parents want to feel confident that products they buy for their children won't result in a lifetime of expensive chronic disease. It's time to take a parent's approach to good health, not that of the chemical industry.