AUGUSTA, Maine — Manufacturers can continue selling children’s products in Maine without disclosing which items contain the cancer-causing chemical formaldehyde under a new Maine Department of Environmental Protection decision.
The department formally withdrew a proposed rule that would have named formaldehyde a priority chemical under the Kid-Safe Products Act, a 2008 state law aimed at protecting children from toxins in consumer products.
Formaldehyde, a colorless, odorous gas, is known to cause cancer, particularly of the nose and throat, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The industrial chemical can be released into the air from products manufactured with it, potentially irritating the airways. Children are particularly sensitive to its health effects.
Democrats and public health groups condemned the department’s move Tuesday, accusing Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s administration of bowing to lobbying by major formaldehyde producers, including Koch Industries, the multinational conglomerate owned by well-known conservative political funders David and Charles Koch.
“Federal action on formaldehyde has been stalled by Koch brothers campaign cash and chemical industry lobbying,” Mike Belliveau, president of the public health group Prevent Harm, said in a Tuesday news release. “That means Maine should lead, not follow the money. Instead, once again, Gov. LePage has placed toxic politics before the health of Maine people.”
Koch Industries has led a 10-year campaign to delay regulation of the chemical, Prevent Harm said in the release, citing research by the Environmental Health Strategies Center.
DEP spokeswoman Jessamine Logan said the agency decided to wait for the results of a federal review of formaldehyde. The National Academy of Sciences recently reviewed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of the chemical’s health effects, which will be discussed at a workshop at the end of May, she said. The academy also is reviewing the formaldehyde section of a national report on carcinogens, with results expected by August, she said.
“We have not ruled out prioritization of formaldehyde but believe it is appropriate to wait until the federal review is completed,” Logan wrote in an email.
The DEP announced on April 29 that it would drop the formaldehyde rule as part of a wider review involving several other chemical disclosure proposals. On Tuesday, the department adopted three new rules naming arsenic, mercury and cadmium as priority chemicals under the Kid-Safe Products Act, requiring manufacturers to report to the agency which products intended for children under age 12 contain the chemicals.
Several public health and environmental groups criticized the department’s action as symbolic and redundant, saying those three chemicals were largely phased out more than a decade ago.