Chemical Caution

Posted Oct. 05, 2010, at 5:39 p.m.

With a growing number of studies showing that a chemical known as BPA may be harmful, especially to children, state policymakers are wise to take a prudent approach to its use in Maine. Ensuring BPA is not in items frequently used by babies and young children is a good first step.

Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection later this week will hold a workshop on its proposal to begin a phaseout of bisphenol A, or BPA, in reusable food and drink containers such as baby bottles, sippy cups and water bottles.

Environmental and health advocates, including the Environmental Health Strategy Center and Alliance for a Clean & Healthy Maine, make a strong case for the board to take additional steps.

Because BPA has essentially already been phased out of drinking containers — in response to consumer demand, not government regulations — it makes sense to move ahead with other products.

The BEP had proposed to further investigate the use of BPA in containers for infant formula and baby food as well as toys and other child care items. Advocates suggest that the board should begin a phaseout of this use and investigate the use of BPA in food packaging for toddlers and floor coatings. This makes sense.

This process was set into motion by Maine’s 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act, which dictated that the Department of Environmental Protection, working with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Center for Disease Control, identify two priority chemicals. A chemical may be listed only if it “has been identified by an authoritative governmental entity on the basis of credible scientific evidence as being known as a carcinogen, a reproductive or developmental toxicant or an endocrine disruptor” or bioaccumulative and toxic, according to the DEP’s website.

BPA is the first chemical the department identified as a priority.

Five states have limited BPA in children’s products, and Connecticut and Vermont have banned its use in formula and baby food containers (where it is used as a coating on the inside of the container or lid). So Maine is not breaking new ground if it moves in this direction.

One argument against an expanded phaseout is that BPA-free alternatives don’t exist. The fact that the chemical is no longer used in most reusable water bottles and that formula and baby food in BPA-free containers are easily found at grocery and discount stories negates this claim.

The scientific claims about BPA are a little less clear. There have been numerous studies suggesting that BPA is an endocrine disrupter and that it is linked to diseases such as cancer, but that link is not yet definitive.

Because BPA is widely used, it has been found in nearly all human samples in a number of studies. Studies also have found that it stays longer in the bodies of children than adults.

This shows there is reason for caution.

The process through which Maine is considering the BPA ban is deliberately and wisely focused on children’s health, something everyone agrees is critical to protect.

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