No small-business owner wants to make or sell dangerous and unhealthful products, just as no parent wants to worry about the safety of the products they buy for their children. As small retailers, we’re anxious to see an end to the stress and uncertainty over dangerous chemicals being used in the products we sell — especially in products designed for children. These chemicals lead to costly disease and take a tremendous toll on our families, our pocketbooks, and our health system. Maine is filled with thousands of small, locally-owned businesses similar to ours. We’re the lifeblood of the Maine economy and we need policies in place that protect us and our customers so our communities can thrive.
There are thousands of products on the market that contain unnecessary toxic chemicals — many of them made for children. Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is one such dangerous chemical for which safer and affordable alternatives already exist. BPA is a widely-used chemical with serious health effects. It can be found in many children’s products, including hard plastic bottles, sippy cups, and in the resins that line cans of food and infant formula. BPA is a hormonelike chemical that has been linked to autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obesity, diabetes, and breast and prostate cancers. Momentum has been growing for BPA to be removed from consumer products and replaced with safer alternatives, yet the U.S Food and Drug Administration refuses to take action.
As small retailers, we’re stuck in the middle of a system that is broken. We are accountable to our customers and at the mercy of the chemical industry and large manufacturers that aren’t required to test their products for safety or disclose their contents. We know very little about these chemicals and the products they are used in. That’s why we are joining the legions of parents and other concerned citizens who are speaking up for change. Collecting information on toxic chemicals and ensuring safe products is long overdue.
Because there is no federal system to ensure the safety of chemicals used in consumer products, individual states must take action. We are fortunate that the Maine Legislature has taken the lead in this regard and passed the Kid-Safe Products Law in 2008. The law will improve health and lower health costs for all Maine people by getting unnecessary toxic chemicals replaced with safer alternatives.
Under the new law, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection must start by identifying chemicals of high concern (which could easily total more than 1,500). The DEP must then narrow that list to the top-priority “worst of the worst” chemicals to be taken out of children’s products and replaced with safer alternatives. There are at least two dozen chemicals, including BPA, which should be given priority by the DEP and acted upon promptly.
Maine’s Kid-Safe Products law is well-designed, practical and fair. And it gets small retailers out of the middle of this broken system by holding large manufacturers responsible for proving their products are safe before they go in children’s toys and other consumer products. It is exactly the model Congress should consider for national implementation.
The DEP is currently convening a group of stakeholders to inform the process of implementing the Kid-Safe Products Law. Hopefully, the chemical industry will not be successful at slowing or derailing this important law. The stakeholder meetings are expected to conclude at the end of April. At that point it is essential that the Maine DEP keep the process on the fast track and immediately publish their list of chemicals of high concern. Small businesses and the customers we serve can’t wait any longer for good information and products we can trust.
Safer chemicals save money and lives. As business owners, we want to sell products that are safe and healthful for our customers, especially our youngest customers. We don’t have to choose between good health, a clean environment and a strong economy. In fact, they go hand in hand. What’s good for business and good for Maine’s future health and prosperity is simple: Get dangerous chemicals, including BPA, out of consumer products, starting with those intended for children.
Heather vanFrankenhuyzen is the owner of Bella Luna in Bangor. Cathy Anderson is the owner of The Briar Patch in Bangor.