As physicians and the co-chairs of the Maine Medical Association’s Public Health Committee, we write to express the association’s deep concern with Gov. Paul LePage’s comments dismissing the dangers of bisphenol-A “LePage Dismisses BPA Dangers,” (BDN, Feb. 22) and his proposal to roll back the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s rule that would remove BPA from certain children’s products and continue to assess the chemical’s use in other items.
BPA has been implicated as an endocrine disrupting chemical at low doses. As an endocrine disruptor, BPA interferes with normal hormonal balance, especially in developing fetuses and infants, who are so vulnerable to both natural and synthetic hormones. The effects of BPA are pervasive and include affecting the receptors involved in metabolism, obesity and brain signaling. Some studies have linked BPA to breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, obesity, learning disabilities, and reproductive health problems.
We know that BPA is found in body fluids at levels that are biologically active and that endocrine disruptors have been found in amniotic fluid and breast milk. There is even an implication that endocrine disruptors can affect DNA – the very building block of life.
In 2009, the Endocrine Society published in a position statement that they held a strong concern for endocrine disruptors. Although the Endocrine Society and other groups have recognized that further research is necessary before science can conclusively prove the effects of BPA on growing children, they have also recognized that the “precautionary principle” — taking action sooner when delay may prove more costly to society and future generations — dictates limiting exposure to BPA now.
Looking back at the story of BPA parallels the experience that Maine had with lead. It took many generations of severely damaged children before regulations to limit exposure came into play. As physicians, we will never forget the children lying stiffly in their hospital cribs, backs arched, with intractable seizures from lead exposure. Although the toxicity to the growing child of even low levels of lead was suspected, it was years before public policy caught up to the growing body of scientific evidence. During those years, many children, their families and society as a whole suffered and continue to suffer from the children’s neurological and behavioral injury.
The governor has said that he wants to adopt a standard for rulemaking requiring rules to be predicated on valid science. This was exactly the basis for the Legislature’s design of the Kid-Safe Products Act, and exactly the process followed by the Department of Environmental Protection in identifying bisphenol-A as Maine’s first “priority chemical” under this important law.
This designation recognizes BPA as one of the most dangerous chemicals currently in use in children’s products, with the potential to cause grave harm to our most vulnerable population, our children, and to increase health care costs in caring for the effects of their exposure. In addition there is abundant evidence that there are safer alternatives to the use of BPA currently available.
While it may sound good in principle to rely on federal standards for regulating chemicals, this only makes sense if there are functioning federal standards to begin with. Unfortunately, the current federal law regulating chemicals in the environment, the Toxic Substances Control Act, is widely accepted to be outdated and ineffective. It passed in 1976, does not rely on a scientific approach, exempted over 60,000 chemicals right from the outset, and has restricted the use of only five chemicals in its 35-year history.
Let’s learn from the tragedy of lead poisoning and prevent disease rather than paying the price after it’s too late. Our best hope of protecting our children’s health and lowering the cost of health care for everyone is to keep the Kid-Safe Products Act working as it was intended, and maintain the restriction on the use of BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups and other reusable food and beverage containers.
Lani Graham, a family physician, and Norma Dreyfus, a pediatrician, are co-chairs of the Maine Medical Association Public Health Committee.