BANGOR, Maine — It wasn’t convenient to drive two hours from southern Maine in the middle of the week for Emma Halas-O’Connor and Tracy Gregoire, but they weren’t about to slack off when a big goal was in sight.
Their purpose was to promote the passage of the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, which is the subject of U.S. Senate hearings on Thursday, and urge Maine
Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe to back the bill.
“Well, it’s been almost four decades since any chemical act has been passed like this and there’s really been no action taken in all that time,” said Halas-O’Connor, a grass-roots organizer for the nonprofit Environmental Health Strategy Center based in Portland and Bangor.
Halas-O’Connor already was planning to attend Wednesday morning’s press conference by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine in front of the Margaret Chase Federal Building, but she had an extra reason to car-pool with Gregoire.
Gregoire, director of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine’s Healthy Children’s Project, had a slight case of laryngitis and needed another voice to promote the act and what it means to public safety.
The pair also delivered 5,000 messages from Maine residents urging Snowe and Collins, R-Maine to support the bill.
“This is the first time in 35 years Congress has really moved on updating this legislation, which is why we’re excited about Thursday’s public hearings,” said Gregoire. “It’s a no-brainer. Even the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] has admitted this is a badly broken law.”
The Safe Chemicals act, authored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., would overhaul the 1976 law that opponents say is outdated and ineffective at protecting public health and also would give businesses and consumers more accurate information about what chemicals are used in everyday products.
“People are becoming more aware that things which might be in a baby bottle, for example, can leach into your system,” said Gregoire. “These chemicals can also get into household dust.”
The bill would require — for the first time — chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of industrial chemicals used in everyday household products.
“I want the state and federal government to make sure the products we buy are safe,” Gregoire added. “The Department of Environmental Protection at the state level doesn’t have the resources to evaluate all the chemicals in products, but they’re doing the best they can.”
Twenty people, many of whom had children, attended the Wednesday media event.
Halas-O’Connor said it makes sense to require full disclosure of product ingredients.
“If you don’t see it, it’s not something you think about much, and unlike food packaging, there’s no labeling that tells you if it’s unsafe or what chemicals it contains,” she said. “I don’t have children, but as a young woman who wants to have kids someday, the chemicals in my body now will have an impact on my kids in the future.”
Gregoire said she hears regularly from mothers of children with illnesses and health problems, many of which are caused or worsened by exposure to certain chemicals.
“One woman in our group has come to me and said, ‘Hey, I’m a mom of an autistic child who can barely communicate with me, if at all, and I’m trying to make sure I don’t expose them to chemicals that can have neurotoxic or other long-term effects,’” she said. “As a mom of a healthy 2-year-old, I understand. I can’t figure out every time I buy a couch or shampoo or a toy what’s safe and what’s not.”