December 9, 2010

Maine Voices: Legislature will have a chance to control controversial chemical

The questions surrounding the use of BPA in many consumer products mean it should be banned.

By GENE J. KUCINKAS JR.

FALMOUTH - Protecting the health of our children from preventable causes of learning disabilities is good for Maine families, good for our communities and good for our economic future.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gene J. Kucinkas Jr.
of Falmouth is past president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine and is an eighth-grade special education teacher.

We all want our children to reach their full potential without limits, especially from something that can be prevented, like unnecessary toxic chemicals.

As a teacher working with special-needs students, I see firsthand the struggles and challenges children with disabilities face in school.

Most students with learning disabilities make excellent progress with specialized instruction in our public schools.

However, it is not an easy path for them to meet content and specialized instruction goals. It is also important to remember their disabilities don't end when the school day is over.

The school, home and often workplace environments may all be equally challenging. The challenges last a lifetime.

Learning and developmental disabilities are rising every year at an alarming rate.

They are caused by a complex combination of genetics, social environment, substance abuse and exposure to toxic chemicals.

In fact, the National Academy of Sciences estimate that at least 28 percent of incidences of learning disabilities are caused in whole or in part by environmental exposures to toxic chemicals.

The costs aren't limited to the families of special needs children.

Because of the current economic climate, schools across the state are making wrenching decisions about what stays and what is eliminated from their budgets.

Special education is essential but also expensive. It's just common sense that we should be doing everything we can to prevent the disabilities that result in such high costs.

There are more than 80,000 chemicals in use today. Most of these chemicals have never been tested to see if they are safe for our health.

There is no federal law that requires chemicals to be proven safe before they show up in products on store shelves.

The laws currently in place are simply ineffective and outdated -- our nation's chemical safety system is badly broken.

For some chemicals, the scientific evidence of harm has become overwhelming. One such chemical is bisphenol-A, known as BPA.

It is hard to listen to the news without hearing about BPA. With 8 billion pounds of BPA produced each year, it is one of the most commonly used chemicals.

BPA is found in plastic water bottles, sippy cups, infant formula cans, food storage containers, the lining of food cans, credit card receipts and many other household products. BPA readily leaches from the products it is used in and has been found in 93 percent of Americans.

Hundreds of scientific studies have linked BPA to a wide range of health problems, including cancer, diabetes, obesity and learning disabilities.

BPA in the womb or during infancy may trigger lifelong physical and emotional effects.

In addition to health effects, the financial costs for coping with disabilities are passed on to schools, parents and tax payers who support our educational system.

Given that safer alternatives to BPA are available and affordable, these risks to our children's health and the financial costs to society are unacceptable.

The good news is that Maine has the chance to do something about this dangerous chemical.

In fact, Maine has been working to get toxic chemicals like BPA out of products for years.

In 2008, the Maine Legislature passed the Kid-Safe Products Act by an overwhelming bipartisan margin.

This law is helping Maine get the absolute worst chemicals out of consumer products by replacing these dangerous chemicals with safer alternatives.

Under the Kid-Safe Products Act, Maine's Department of Environmental Protection has proposed banning BPA in reusable food and beverage containers. This proposal is now before the Board of Environmental Protection, and if passed, will go to the Maine Legislature for final approval.

This proposed ban is a good start, but we need to remove BPA from the greatest source of children's exposure: infant formula and baby food packaging.

We're counting on the board and the Legislature to follow the science and move swiftly to get BPA out of baby food. Maine kids can't wait.

We need to put the health of our children first.

It only makes sense to eliminate the preventable causes of learning and other disabilities.

It is good for Maine families, good for Maine communities and good for Maine's economic future.

 

- Special to The Press Herald

 

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