In the spring of 2009, The Washington Post uncovered details of a brainstorming meeting of “industry insiders” at a Washington, D.C., club about how to best tamp down public concern over the chemical bisphenol-A, known as BPA. The insiders were particularly concerned about mothers, who were becoming more and more aware of the dangers of BPA.
The industry insiders debated “using fear tactics,” proposed an extensive PR campaign and noted that their “‘holy grail’ spokesperson would be a young pregnant mother who would be willing to speak around the country about the benefits of BPA. The meeting was reminiscent of tobacco industry tactics a generation ago.
I was a Maine legislator at the time, a fierce advocate for safer chemical policy, and I proudly sponsored the successful 2008 Kid-Safe Product Act. I am now a term-limited former lawmaker, a month away from giving birth to my first child, and keenly aware of the impact BPA could have on my developing child.
Shopping for baby products, I regularly note the “BPA-free” labels. Many mothers have read about the dangers of BPA in the mountains of parenting advice and have demanded BPA-free products. Some companies have responded with product changes. But a busy mom could easily miss what “BPA free” means. There are many kids products on the market that still contain BPA.
BPA is a plastic hardener. Nearly 10 years ago, the U.S. was using nearly a million tons of chemical per year in consumer and industrial products. Most Americans come into contact with BPA on a daily basis, most frequently through the linings of cans and plastic packaging, but BPA is used in thousands of other consumer products.
BPA was the first “chemical of high concern” to be selected by Maine’s Kid-Safe Product process for phase out in baby products. After extensive study by state toxicologists, bans in baby products in Canada and the European Union, and following the lead of eight other states, Maine’s proposed ban targets the use of BPA in certain baby products — such as sippy cups and baby bottles. Seventeen U.S. states are considering BPA bans in 2011.
BPA also has long been known as an endocrine disruptor, which means it can mimic the body’s own hormones. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have linked BPA to increased breast cancer risk, reproductive problems, obesity, hyperactivity and thyroid issues. The President’s Cancer Panel specifically called out BPA as a cause for concern in its 2008-2009 report.
National and international agencies have called for action to phase out BPA in children’s products. As early as 2007, the National Institutes of Health issued a “concern” warning for BPA for children because of its proven impacts on fetal and infant brain development. The National Toxicology Program agreed with that finding in 2008, and the Food and Drug Administration issued a similar warning in 2010.
Gov. Paul LePage opposes Maine’s BPA ban in baby products, and he has even listed his opposition to the ban as a positive “regulatory reform” that will improve the state’s business climate.
But Maine companies have not been demanding that they be able to use BPA when manufacturing baby products in our state. And no company stood up at the “red tape” hearings to announce that BPA in baby bottles was good for Maine jobs. Why would the governor oppose the ban on toxics in baby products when no one in Maine is asking him to do so?
That brings us back to those chemical industry “insiders.”
One of Gov. LePage’s three transition chiefs works as a paid lobbyist on behalf of the U.S. toy industry, one of the industries most concerned about a potential ban on BPA. That same lobbyist has also been credited with putting together the printed list of more than 60 environmental laws that should be repealed or changed as a part of “regulatory reform,” including the BPA ban.
The vote to pass the Kid-Safe Product Law in 2008 was nearly unanimous in the Maine Legislature. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle knew it was the right thing to do to protect kids. And even if lobbyists for the chemical and consumer products industry now have new positions of authority in the State House, I am hopeful that the common sense of Maine lawmakers hasn’t changed.
Now, faced with the first substantive test of that 2008 law, Maine lawmakers should approve the first Kid-Safe ban of BPA in targeted products. It is just a tiny first step — some might call it a baby-step — on the road to protecting the health of our children, and our future children.
Hannah Pingree of North Haven is the former speaker of the House. She was the lead sponsor of the Kid-Safe Product Act.