ORONO, Maine — As Maine lawmakers consider arguments for changing a law aimed at protecting children from toxic chemicals in the environment, public health and environmental advocates hope to send the message that “green” manufacturing practices help drive innovation and promote a healthy business climate.
As a press conference at the University of Maine on Tuesday, advocates unveiled Safer By Design, a new national report showing that businesses prosper by meeting growing consumer interest in environmentally friendly products.
“The message of the report is clear,” said Nathaniel Meyer of the Environment Maine advocacy organization. “Companies here in Maine and across the country are already replacing toxic chemicals with safer alternatives, and it’s helping their businesses. We need to move forward by continuing to harness Maine’s ingenuity rather than moving backward by weakening current protections that safeguard our health and our environment and that spur innovation.”
The national report highlights the True Textiles company in Guilford, which includes in its product line a naturally stain-resistant fabric called Terratex, made of recycled polyester and corn. In 2006, the company estimated that by not using toxic stain repellents and other potentially hazardous materials in manufacturing Terratex, True Textiles saves about $300,000 a year in manufacturing processes, according to the report.
Last week, Maine lawmakers strongly endorsed a ban on the chemical Bisphenol A, a chemical found in many consumer products including baby bottles and sippy cups and linked with learning disabilities, reproductive disorders, cancer and obesity. Gov. Paul LePage has opposed the ban and the law that allows it, the Kid-Safe Product Act of 2008, arguing that improving the state’s business climate calls for doing away with over-regulation of the manufacturing and retail sectors.
The BPA ban passed with veto-proof margins in both the House and Senate, making it unlikely LePage would veto the bill. LePage, however, could allow the BPA ban to take effect without signing it.
But there are other challenges to the Kid-Safe Products Act, including scaling down the list of chemicals that could be banned and narrowing the definition of products it could consider.
The groups speaking on Tuesday say the law should be left as is.
“We do so much to protect our children,” including requiring seat belts, bike helmets and life jackets, said Shawn Yardley, director of the city of Bangor’s Department of Health and Community Services and past president of the Maine Public Health Association. “The last thing we should have to worry about is toxic chemicals leaking into the foods our children eat,” the father of seven children said.
Yardley said companies like True Textiles and the better-known Tom’s of Maine, which manufactures a popular line of natural personal hygiene and cosmetic products, provide solutions that are “business-friendly, environment-friendly and child-friendly.”
Steve Taylor, program director for the Maine-based Environmental Health Strategy Center, noted that a number of innovative business projects are under way in Maine to develop nontoxic alternatives to familiar products, including a potato-based alternative to petroleum-based plastics.
“Maine can grow healthy families and a healthy economy,” he said. They go hand-in-hand.”
The Safer by Design report can be read on the website of Environment Maine.