January 25, 2013

Maine Voices: BEP wise to protect Maine babies from BPA, but a loophole remains

Current law prevents the state from extending protections to children and pregnant women.

By TONY OWENS

PORTLAND - I was pleased to read that at their meeting on Jan. 18, all members of Maine's Board of Environmental Protection indicated that they support changing Maine's rules to increase protections for infants and babies from the toxic chemical Bisphenol-A, or BPA.

click image to enlarge

Lilijana Cvetkoska, center, of Cape Elizabeth clutches her infant daughter, Olga Malenko, while demonstrating at the governor’s office for a ban on BPA in baby food packaging.

Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Eight hundred moms and concerned citizens petitioned for this change back in September and their message was clear: We want baby food jars lined with BPA off the shelves in Maine.

Our young ones are exposed to BPA when they eat baby food from glass jars that have metal lids because those lids are lined with plastic that contains the toxic chemical. Mountains of evidence link BPA to birth defects, diabetes, heart disease, behavior problems, breast and prostate cancer, obesity, brain development problems and obesity.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 93 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their bodies.

The board's decision is particularly great news because earlier in January, ignoring scientific evidence, Gov. Paul LePage's appointees at the Department of Environmental Protection recommended to the board that they reject the request to ban BPA from baby food.

Fortunately, the independent board chose to base its decision on the sound science before them and not on the politicized recommendations of the administration.

It is both outrageous and disappointing that the administration tried to persuade the board that there is no evidence that baby food exposes our young ones to BPA.

I sat through hours of testimony and scientific presentations on this topic in front of the board in September. At another board meeting in December, the DEP presented the results of a report on safer alternatives to packaging that contains BPA. The report showed that multiple options already exist to replace the toxic packaging that's still on the shelves in Maine grocery stores.

The evidence was all there for board members to see and I'm glad they acted on that evidence last week.

While the board made a good decision to get BPA out of baby food, it's unfortunate that that is as far as they could go. A number of board members said that they felt limited by the constraints of Maine's chemical law, the Kid Safe Products Act, because the law currently does not allow the state to regulate the worst-of-the-worst toxic chemicals in products for adults or children over the age of 3.

The Kid-Safe Products Act contains a loophole that prevents the state from extending common-sense protections from BPA to pregnant mothers and children.

This means too many Maine families will continue to be exposed to a chemical that has links to so many negative health effects. Developing fetuses and young children are the most susceptible.

As a doctor, if I were presented with this problem, it would be treated as a medical emergency. Any physician would recommend doing whatever we can to get toxic food packaging off the shelves of Maine's grocery stores.

Indeed, the Maine Medical Association and the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics have signed on to advocate expansion of Maine's BPA protections.

Any doctor, any scientist, any rational decision-maker would conclude from the science we now have that no one should face exposure to BPA.

We need to change our law so the environment board can act on the desire they expressed last week -- to keep BPA out of the bodies of pregnant mothers and their developing babies, and all young children.

Tony Owens is an emergency physician at Maine Medical Center and president of the board of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

 

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