Maine board weighs BPA bottle ban

Posted June 18, 2010, at 1:18 a.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine could become the latest state to ban the sale of baby bottles and other reusable food and beverage containers made with bisphenol A under the first test of a relatively new state law allowing regulators to target potentially harmful chemicals.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is proposing a ban beginning in January 2012 on bisphenol A, also known as BPA, in any reusable food or beverage container. Additional rules require manufacturers to identify any children’s products such as instant formula or toys that contain BPA.

BPA is increasingly coming under fire by health and environmental groups.

On Thursday, the Board of Environmental Protection voted unanimously to hold a public hearing on Aug. 19 on the DEP staff recommendation regarding BPA. The exact time and location of the meeting will be announced later.

If approved by the board, the ban would be the first time Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act — passed by the Legislature in 2008 — was used to identify a chemical as a “priority chemical” and limit its use in many products sold in the state.

“BPA would be at the top of our list,” Steve Taylor, campaign director for the Environmental Health and Strategies Center, said Thursday after the board’s vote. “We hope the board will go beyond what the department has proposed.”

Invented more than a century ago, BPA is a common chemical ingredient in polycarbonate plastic products such as reusable baby bottles, sippy cups and food containers. BPA is also commonly used in the resins that line cans.

Public health and environmental groups have been raising the alarm about BPA in recent years, citing animal studies showing that the chemical can disrupt the natural flow of hormones. Responding to public concerns, many manufacturers of children’s products and reusable water bottles popular with some adults have begun to voluntarily replace BPA with other chemical additives.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Toxicology Program has expressed “some concern” about BPA’s potential impacts on the brains, behaviors and glands of infants, children and fetuses.

“Some concern” is the midpoint designation on the toxicology program’s 5-level scale of gauging potential for impacts from chemicals. The scale ranges from “negligible concern” to “serious concern.”

Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration echoed that concern and supported the industry’s voluntary move away from using BPA in children’s products. Both agencies continue to study BPA.

But the plastics and chemistry industries continue to defend the widespread use of BPA.

“The safety of Bisphenol A has been extensively studied by regulatory agencies, academic and scientific institutions, and industry scientists for more than four decades,” states the American Chemistry Council’s website. “The potential human exposure to Bisphenol A from polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resin products is ex-tremely small and poses no known risk to human health.”

That wasn’t the sentiment Thursday at the Board of Environmental Protection meeting. In fact, several board members expressed concerns that the department’s proposal does not go far enough because it fails to ban BPA’s use in products that might be used by pregnant women.

“Many times, contaminants are causing the greatest damage in developing fetuses,” said board member Wing Goodale, a biologist who specializes in toxicology studies of wildlife.

Taylor with the Portland-based Environmental Health Strategies Center agreed, adding he hopes the department and board will eventually expand the BPA ban to include packaging for instant baby formula.

House Speaker Hannah Pingree, a North Haven Democrat who sponsored the Kids-Safe Products Act, praised the department for moving forward.

“It’s good to see Maine take a stand on BPA like so many other states and countries have done,” Pingree said in a statement. “Let’s face it, no child should be exposed to toxic chemicals when they play with their favorite toys or eat their favorite meals.”

Five states have passed laws or rules banning BPA’s use in some children’s products.

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