June 22, 2018
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Manufacturing fear: Is the Chamber trying to “scare up” business testimony?

By Mike Belliveau, Special to the BDN

Perception is everything, right? That must be why the State Chamber of Commerce is working so hard to literally “scare up” support for their attempt to weaken the Kid Safe Products Act in the Maine Legislature.

With no facts to support its wild claims, the Chamber has joined Gov. Paul LePage and the out-of-state chemical industry in crying that the sky is falling on the Maine economy because of an existing law to protect kids from harmful chemicals in common products.

Not one Maine company testified against the law when it passed by an overwhelming bipartisan margin in 2008. Nor did any Maine company oppose the first action under the law to phase out the use of the hormone disrupting chemical BPA in plastic baby bottles, sippy cups and other reusable food and drink containers.

The Kid Safe Products Act is a science-based, common sense policy to protect children’s health by promoting safer products that are free from known toxic chemicals.  It’s hard to imagine a more reasonable approach to public health protection.

No chemical, such as BPA, can be named under the law as a priority chemical of high concern unless the state toxicologists at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention agree that the best available science shows both “hazard” and “exposure.”

That means that authoritative government agencies have already concluded, based on credible science, that the chemical causes cancer, harm to development or reproduction, hormone disruption, or that the chemical is long-lived and builds up to toxic levels in our bodies.

Further, the data must show that a developing fetus, infant or child, who are uniquely vulnerable to toxic chemicals during critical windows of development, will likely be exposed to that priority chemical.

No consumer product can be phased out from sale under the Kid Safe Products Act unless three tough conditions are met. First, the state must demonstrate that children are exposed to a priority chemical of high concern from that product. Second, the state must show that a safer alternative to that chemical is available, effective and affordable. Lastly, the Maine Legislature must review and authorize final adoption of any rule proposed to prohibit the sale of the product.

In opinion columns and action alerts to Maine businesses, the State Chamber of Commerce has been spreading false assertions that we may no longer be able to buy or sell anything from a bottle of beer to roofing material for our homes. This amounts to nothing more than blatant fear mongering, especially since such products are exempt from the law.

In the three years since the Kid Safe Products Act was adopted, only two priority chemicals have been named and only one chemical has been proposed for replacement by safer alternatives in a small group of products — the use of BPA in reusable containers such as baby bottles and sippy cups.

In fact, the law provides total discretion to the governor and his environmental commissioner and health director to decide when additional priority chemicals or product restrictions will be proposed.  With so many checks and balances, the law makes baby steps toward safer products, hardly a blow to the Maine economy.

In a recent poll, 91 percent of Mainers said it was important for Maine to identify the most dangerous chemicals currently used in making consumer products and require manufacturers to replace them with safer alternatives that are effective and affordable.

One of those supporters, Megan Rice, a mother of two young girls from the town of China, expressed what I hear from many Maine parents when she said,  “I work hard everyday to do what’s best for my daughters, but I can’t do it alone. I need to know that when I pick something off of a store shelf that it doesn’t have the potential to make my kids sick. I need the Kid Safe Products Act.  Attempts to weaken this law amount to prioritizing the chemical industry’s wish list over a healthy future for our children.”

We’re confident that Maine lawmakers will see through the fear tactics that only benefit out-of-state corporations. The Legislature should protect their investment in healthier Maine children by opposing weakening amendments to the Kid Safe Products Act.

Mike Belliveau is the executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center in Bangor and a co-founder of the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine.

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