Maine took an important step to protect children by phasing out the use of plastic baby bottles and sippy cups containing the chemical bisphenol-A. The Board of Environmental Protection should go a step further this week and vote to eliminate the chemical from baby food containers as well.

There is a strong body of evidence that BPA is harmful. The chemical, used in plastics, is unstable and leaches into liquids. A growing body of evidence links it to birth defects, learning disabilities, behavior problems, breast and prostate cancer, early puberty in girls and other health concerns.

Children are the most vulnerable, and it makes sense to remove BPA from products they are likely to use. Market forces are already phasing the chemical out of many products, but families should not have to become chemists in the grocery store. The state can help prevent lifelong health problems by extending the existing ban.

BPA was tested to be an estrogen replacement drug back in the 1930s. While it was not a success as a pharmaceutical product, it was proven to help plastic remain flexible, making a variety of consumer products possible. In addition to plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, BPA is used in the inner coating of cans and the plastic seal under metal jar lids. When baby food comes in those jars, the chances for exposure increase.

The BEP has the power under the Kid Safe Products Act to extend the existing ban, and it should not be cowed by the usual industry arguments.

Maine will not be alone. Two other states, Connecticut and Vermont, have already banned BPA in baby food packaging and others are likely to follow suit. There are already alternative packages on store shelves, so there is no chance that baby food customers will be without the products they need. Some manufacturers already use BPA-free jar lids. Extending this ban would not create an undue hardship on the companies that make and distribute baby food.

Some will argue this type of legislation is better handled on the national level, and the federal government has not used its authority to ban BPA in food packaging. That is more of an indictment of the dysfunctional federal government than it is a case of overreaching on the state level.

This has not been a controversial issue in Maine. Phasing out BPA has enjoyed bipartisan support here, and that should continue.