AUGUSTA, Maine — A coalition of environmental and consumer safety groups called on state regulators Thursday to extend Maine’s ban on the chemical bisphenol A to packaging used for infant formula and baby and toddler foods, saying the state should do whatever it can to prevent children’s exposure to the chemical, commonly known as BPA.
Maine already bans BPA from certain children’s products, including baby bottles and sippy cups, and advocates in June filed a petition with the state’s Board of Environmental Protection to expand the scope of the ban.
The petitioners — who include more than 800 Maine residents and the coalition of environmental groups — argued the board has the authority to do that under the 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act, the law that set the existing BPA ban in motion.
“The criteria under Maine law have been met that enable you to exercise your authority,” said Michael Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center. “Safer alternatives are widely available at comparable cost.”
But business and industry representatives told Maine Board of Environmental Protection members Thursday that the rules proposed for extending the ban could make it onerous to sell their products in Maine. The proposed ban, they said, also circumvents a process lawmakers approved last year for identifying potentially dangerous chemicals and banning their use.
“We’re asking for some [regulatory] predictability here,” said Andy Hackman, who directs state government affairs at the national Toy Industry Association. “This provision here would set that predictability out the window.”
During a public hearing that lasted much of the day, advocates supporting and opposing the expanded BPA ban made their case to the state’s Board of Environmental Protection and Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho. The hearing attracted dozens of ban supporters, who staged a press conference.
Supporters had to make the case that BPA poses a danger to children, that children are exposed to it in food and that there are safer and affordable BPA alternatives. BPA is a plastic additive found in hundreds of products ranging from water bottles to CDs to receipt paper, and it’s an endocrine disruptor that some studies have linked to cancer, learning disabilities, infertility and other health problems.
Opponents, including representatives of chemical and packaging manufacturers, said most BPA disappears during the manufacturing process, leaving behind trace amounts in metal containers, baby food jar lids and other packages. They also cited a federal Food and Drug Administration opinion that raises some concerns about BPA’s safety, but points to uncertainty in scientific research about the risks of exposure to BPA.
The Board of Environmental Protection and the DEP plan to review public comments on the issue in the coming months and issue a recommendation to the Legislature on extending the BPA ban in the late fall, said Robert Foley, the board’s chairman. Lawmakers will have the final say on the matter.
Ban supporters included scientists who disputed the integrity of studies — some of them funded by the chemical industry — that question whether BPA exposure leads to harmful effects in children.
“In my opinion, there is nothing controversial about BPA when you look at all the data,” said Patricia Hunt, a biologist at Washington State University. “They affect major organs, the developing brain, the heart, mammary gland. Why does controversy continue to shroud this chemical? In part, because industry argues to maintain this controversy.”
Belliveau, of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, noted that many food companies have phased out packaging that uses BPA. But not all of them have, he said, arguing that now is the right time to extend Maine’s BPA ban.
“It’s not too early, nor is it too late,” he said. “The problem has not been solved. There are laggards that haven’t made the switch.”
Ben Gilman, government relations specialist with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, said the Board of Environmental Protection was the wrong forum for considering the BPA ban.
A 2011 law unanimously approved by lawmakers made identifying dangerous chemicals and banning them the responsibility of the Department of Environmental Protection and the Legislature. Not using that process, Gilman said, poses a regulatory complication for businesses.
“Maine’s businesses need some regulatory certainty in today’s economy,” he said. “It threatens to undermine the Legislature and create uncertainty among businesses.”
But the proposal for an expanded BPA ban arrived at the board legally through a citizen petition process, said Wing Goodale, a Board of Environmental Protection member. “We are here to look at the evidence before us and make a decision,” he said.
While the FDA’s official opinion on BPA isn’t conclusive, the agency has taken some steps to reduce its use. In July, the FDA said the chemical could no longer be used in baby bottles and sippy cups, a response to consumer demand and the fact that manufacturers have stopped using BPA in those products.
Andrew Smith, Maine’s state toxicologist, said three other states have BPA bans in place on infant and toddler food packaging. Connecticut and Vermont ban BPA in baby food and infant formula packaging. Maryland law bans the chemical only in infant formula containers.