EDITORIAL

“Little beards” and the Marketplace

Posted March 24, 2011, at 9:32 p.m.

As lawmakers consider a bill to move ahead with Maine’s phaseout of BPA in children’s products, they should know that this debate is over nationally.

Wal-Mart in 2008 announced that it would stop selling baby bottles, sippy cups, food containers and water bottles made with bisphenol-A, a chemical of concern to scientists and consumers.

When the world’s largest retailer makes a decision like this, the rest of the market will follow, so  debating taking a different course is pointless.

For those who believe such decisions should be left to the market, it must be pointed out that the market movement was spurred by government action. Wal-Mart began its BPA phaseout in Canada after the country’s health department moved to declare the chemical unsafe. China recently ordered an end to use of BPA in children’s products

BPA was the first — and so far only — chemical targeted for action under Maine’s Kids Safe Products Act, which was passed in 2008. The Board of Environmental Protection, after several public hearings, last year unanimously adopted a phaseout of sale of kids products containing BPA.

A vote of the Legislature is needed to make the phaseout final. Lawmakers are considering legislation, LD 412, to do so. They should finish the job begun nearly four years ago.

They are under a lot of pressure, however, to go in the opposite direction. Gov. Paul LePage included the BPA ban in his long list of environmental laws and rules that he wants changed. Last month, the governor said BPA wasn’t so bad and that the worst that would happen is that some women would grow “little beards.” While the science is far from settled, growing numbers of studies suggest that the chemical can be harmful.

The Maine State Chamber of Commerce is advocating a weakening of the Kid-Safe Products Act, saying that keeping a long list of chemicals that may be dangerous is bad for business.

What they and the governor miss is that business has already made a decision on BPA. In addition to Wal-Mart, Toys R Us and Whole Foods have stopped selling some products containing BPA. They didn’t wait for action from the federal government.

Wal-Mart and other retailers are now moving away from polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, which are used as flame retardants in many consumer products. Maine lawmakers began a phaseout of these chemicals in 2007.

State government action isn’t the best way to regulate chemicals used in the global marketplace. But Maine and other states and countries have shown that such regulation — and a push from consumers — is often effective in pushing retailers in the right direction.

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