BANGOR, Maine — People who happened to be passing through the intersection of Union and Hammond streets at noon Tuesday may have been distracted by the presence of a 20-foot-tall inflatable baby bottle.
The bottle was tethered to the sidewalk across the street from the Rite Aid store. A small group of people ringed the base of the bottle, carrying signs that read, “Safe Products: Good for Families” and “Safe Products: Good for Business.”
According to a spokesman for the Maine People’s Alliance, which set up the demonstration, Rite Aid is one of many companies still selling products intended for babies and children that contain bisphenol-A, or BPA. The chemical is used in the manufacturing of a wide array of plastic products, including baby bottles, sippy cups and pacifiers. Its presence in consumer products has been linked in recent studies to a number of health problems, including learning disabilities, breast and prostate cancers, diabetes and premature puberty in girls.
A quick survey of the baby aisle in the Rite Aid store found a good selection of baby bottles, all but one of which were clearly labeled “BPA free.” A company spokeswoman said Tuesday that since April 1, all baby products sold in Rite Aid stores must be BPA-free. The one nonlabeled item on the Union Street store shelves probably was BPA-free, she said, but simply lacked the new labeling to show it. Rite Aid has 81 stores in Maine and 4,844 nationally.
“Obviously, one company stopping selling these products won’t fix the problem,” said Ryan Tipping-Spitz, environmental organizer for the Maine People’s Alliance. The group’s larger goal, he said, is to raise consumer awareness and to pressure the business community and the federal government to regulate BPA and other toxic chemicals in consumer goods.
Heather van Frankenhuyzen, owner of the Bella Luna women’s clothing shop in downtown Bangor, was at the protest, carrying her 7-month-old daughter, Noorah Abdelmageed.
“As a mom, it is my highest priority to make sure the things I give my baby are safe,” she said. “It doesn’t surprise me, but it makes me angry and sad to see companies putting their profits before the health of the people.”
Van Frankenhuyzen said later that the federal government should regulate the use of BPA, especially in products for children.
“We shouldn’t have to depend on product labeling,” she said. “Because everything should be BPA-free.”
Maine People’s Alliance Executive Director Jesse Graham said the 1976 federal Toxic Substances Control Act is full of “loopholes” that benefit the chemicals and manufacturing sectors. The law must be updated to reflect growing scientific evidence of the dangers to humans and the environment posed by certain chemicals, including BPA, he said.
More recently and closer to home, Maine’s 2008 Kids Safe Products Act calls on the Department of Environmental Protection to identify at least two “priority chemicals” for state oversight by 2011, with more to be added in the future. Listed chemicals will come under increased state regulation in the form of consumer labeling and, in some cases, the prohibition of products that contain them.
Graham said there are dozens of chemicals that should be on Maine’s list, but bisphenol-A should certainly be considered for inclusion in the first round. He said the Maine People’s Alliance is working with other environmental and health groups in Maine and across the country to raise awareness about bisphenol-A.
On the Web: www.watoxics.org