AUGUSTA, Maine — The Board of Environmental Protection on Thursday scheduled a Sept. 6 public hearing on a rule change called for in a citizens petition that would ban the use of bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, in food packaging intended for toddlers and infants.
The plastic additive, which is found in hundreds of products ranging from water bottles to CDs to receipt paper, is an endocrine disruptor that some studies have linked to cancer, learning disabilities, infertility and other health problems.
A group of mothers submitted a petition signed by more than 800 Mainers to the BEP in June calling on the board to ban BPA from use in baby and toddler food packaging. They also submitted more than 1,000 pages of scientific studies and information about readily available, safer alternatives to BPA, according to Steve Taylor of the Environmental Health and Strategy Center and spokesman for the petitioners.
Taylor said after the BEP meeting that evidence of the dangers of BPA are now “conclusive,” and he argued that the state should continue to take actions to ensure that young Mainers aren’t exposed to the substance.
On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration announced that BPA would no longer be used in the production of baby bottles and sippy cups after the American Chemistry Council determined that manufacturers of those products already had phased out their use of the chemical.
Maine had already taken that step in December of 2010 when it banned the sale and distribution of reusable beverage containers, such as sippy cups and baby bottles. At the same time, the board added BPA to Maine’s list of toxic chemicals, requiring that manufacturers report to the Department of Environmental Protection on how the chemical is used, which products contain the additive and whether there are safer alternatives.
However, an FDA spokesman said after Tuesday’s announcement that the agency still supported the use of BPA in food packaging and containers.
A May 2012 study in which researchers fed pregnant monkeys fruit containing BPA linked the chemical to increased instances of breast cancer in the female offspring of the test monkeys.
Other researchers have said their studies have revealed adverse health effects on rodents.
Some manufacturers, the chemical industry and other groups have said those studies don’t prove any ill effects on humans and have continued to argue that BPA is safe.
Taylor countered that animal research has long been an accepted method of studying the effects of toxic substances on humans and attempts by groups to dispute those studies are attempts to muddy the waters of proven science. He accused industry and business representatives of trying to mislead the public.
Ben Gilman, senior governmental affairs specialist at the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber opposes the rule changes, largely because the state already implemented regulations on BPA in recent years that haven’t even had a chance to be put into effect yet.
The Chamber of Commerce also has accused the Environmental Health Strategy Center of “grandstanding” about the relatively few products that contain the chemicals when thousands more do not.
Gilman said that the state needs time to investigate what effect such a ban would have on Maine industry and business before broadening regulations.
“The entire Maine business community is affected by it,” Gilman said.
While many manufacturers have begun voluntarily replacing BPA with other chemicals, the chemical industry points to other studies that have deemed the compound safe.
Federal agencies have said they are continuing to study BPA and its potential effects. Others say the harm is already proven.