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May 3, 2013

Maine Voices: Parents should demand legislative action on Healthy Kids Bill

GRAY - We've all seen it. A simple trip to the grocery store will reveal at least a dozen different parenting styles.

But one thing moms and dads can all agree on is that the products we bring into our homes should not contain dangerous chemicals.

As a young mother, I should not be put in the position of trying to figure out if there are chlorinated flame retardants in the furniture, phthalates in my sons' toys, parabens in our shampoo or BPA in a can of soup.

I should feel confident that the products I buy for my family are safe. But, unfortunately, I know better than to assume we are safe from toxic chemicals.

I have two wonderful sons. My younger son has autism. He struggles every day to communicate his needs and to learn new concepts. It is difficult for him and for our entire family.

Raising a child with autism brings tremendous daily challenges, from managing family routines to advocating for appropriate educational services.

It also has financial impacts -- not just for families, but for local school districts and for our state budget, where we invest together to ensure every child has the opportunity to live a happy, productive life. For children with autism, that means early, intensive and ongoing interventions.

Sadly, my family is not alone in this struggle. Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability. A recent U. S. Centers for Disease Control study estimates that one out of 88 children is diagnosed in the autism spectrum. In Maine, the rate is even higher, with one in 67 children affected by autism.

Researchers are looking more and more at the link between exposure to environmental toxins and the rising rates of autism.

Although I will never know what caused my son's autism, there is strong reason to believe that chemicals in the environment affected my son's health.

During my entire pregnancy, I was residing on a military base in California's San Joaquin Valley. I was exposed to chemicals in jet fuel and to pesticides sprayed on abutting cotton fields. The smell of chemicals was constant in our housing.

Not surprisingly, it is very important to me that my family has a clean and healthy environment. But I cannot do this alone.

The truth is, most chemicals have never been tested for health and safety, and many companies will not list what chemicals they use in their products. We cannot shop our way out of this problem. Our children's health depends on safer chemicals in everyday products and we need action now to ensure that happens.

Thankfully, the Maine Legislature has a history of overwhelming support for protecting kids from toxic chemicals, no matter what political party is in charge.

The Kid-Safe Products Act is a law we can be most proud of. We now have a system for identifying the most dangerous chemicals that children are exposed to, and then seeing if safer alternatives are available so manufacturers can phase out the use of the harmful ones. But action under the Kid-Safe Products Act is now stalled.

Our state scientists and medical experts have identified 49 of the very worst chemicals that they know can cause cancer, diabetes, learning and developmental effects, reproductive problems or other serious health impacts. But right now there is no plan to do anything about these 49 dangerous chemicals.

Chemicals that impact the developing brains of our children do not belong in our homes. Maine children need more than a list of harmful chemicals; they need action for safer products!

Luckily, Sen. Seth Goodall has introduced L.D. 1181, the Healthy Kids Bill, which would do three important things to protect children's health.

First, it would jump-start action on the 49 chemicals on the list, so we can keep making progress on finding safer alternatives to the very worst chemicals.

Second, it would help parents (and businesses) get good information about what's on store shelves.

And third, it would close a loophole in the current law that leaves pregnant women and older children unprotected from toxic chemicals like BPA in their food.

The Healthy Kids Bill will improve the health of Maine children and help lower health costs for all of us. That's just common sense.

As parents, we may not all agree on how to cope with the candy aisle at the grocery store, but we can all get behind the Healthy Kids Bill.

No child should face the lifelong challenges my son is facing because he or she was exposed to BPA at the dinner table, or to parabens in his shampoo, or to phthalates in her bathtub toys. Maine's children and families deserve a healthy future.

Erica Lowell of Gray is a mother of two and a member of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine.





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