Maine takes aim at toxic chemicals

Posted Dec. 16, 2010, at 10:05 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — State regulators on Thursday added bisphenol A, or BPA, to Maine’s list of toxic chemicals, a first step toward a potential ban on the additive in children’s cups and other plastic reusable beverage containers sold in Maine.

Members of the Board of Environmental Protection voted unanimously to designate BPA and two other chemical compounds — nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates — as Maine’s first “priority chemicals” under the 2008 Kid-Safe Products Law.

Such a designation means manufacturers will have to report to the Department of Environmental Protection on how the chemicals are used, which products contain the additives and whether there are safer alternatives.

In the case of BPA, the board also voted to prohibit retailers from selling any reusable beverage containers — such as baby bottles, children’s cups or resealable water bottles — that contain the chemical as of Jan. 1, 2012. Because such a ban would be a “major substantive rule,” it is subject to legislative approval.

“For the first time, Maine has targeted proven, highly dangerous chemicals that are endangering Maine children in order to figure out how to get them out of commercial products and replace them with safer alternatives,” said Steve Taylor, campaign director for the Environmental Health Strategy Center.

BPA is an endocrine disrupter that mimics the hormone estrogen.

Although the potential health effects of BPA remain a subject of dispute, health and environmental groups contend that the compound has been linked to learning disabilities, reproductive problems, cancer and obesity.

The National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have said they have “some concern” about BPA’s effects on fetuses, children and infants at current exposure levels through food and the environment.

While many manufacturers have begun voluntarily replacing BPA with other chemicals, the chemical industry points to other studies that have deemed the compound safe.

Steven Hentges, executive director of a polycarbonate-BPA group at the American Chemistry Council, referred to a recent European Food Safety Authority report that said BPA, in low levels, is safe. Additionally, the World Health Organization has said it is premature to target BPA with precautionary measures.

“The action taken today in Maine is not consistent with the consensus view of governments around the world that have reviewed the safety of BPA,” Hentges said in a telephone interview. “We believe the science supports the safety of BPA, including in children’s products.”

Environmental and health groups cheered the board’s decision, however. Among them was the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“We hope DEP will move expeditiously to speed the alternatives assessment and move forward confidently to get this chemical out of food destined for our children,” Matt Prindiville with NRCM said in a statement. “This law and this rule are about protecting Maine children’s health. Today we are one step closer to doing so.”

The other compounds designated as priority chemicals on Thursday — nonylphenol and nonylphenol ethoxylates — are hormone disrupters that can be found in detergents, personal care products, pesticides and other products. Many manufacturers already are removing or phasing out use of the compounds.

The 2008 Kid-Safe Products Law was passed with overwhelming support in the Legislature, including a 35-0 vote in the Senate.

Taylor said he hopes political support for the measure will remain strong despite the Republican takeover of the State House and the Blaine House.

“These are not controversial policies,” Taylor said. “They enjoy strong public support and received strong, bipartisan legislative support.”

Product or chemical manufacturers could appeal the BEP decision. However, Hentges pointed out that the Legislature must sign off on banning BPA in reusable beverage containers beginning in 2012.

“There is more to play out here … so we will have to wait and see what happens,” he said.

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