PORTLAND, Maine — Environmental health advocates on Tuesday called for congressional action to outlaw certain chemicals after the release of a report identifying more than 650 brand name products that contain the toxins.

In accordance with Maine’s 2008 Kid Safe Products Act, many manufacturers this fall reported to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection their use of bisphenol-A, or BPA, and nonylphenol ethoxylates, or NPEs. The resultant products list was trumpeted Tuesday at an Environmental Health Strategy Center news conference in Portland as a breakthrough in the effort to compile data for concerned parents or for use in developing a federal ban of the chemicals.

A top official with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce responded Tuesday afternoon by describing the BPA levels in the products identified in the recent reports as low enough not to be of “risk to children or consumers,” and accused the Environmental Health Strategy Center of “grandstanding” about the relatively few products that contain the chemicals when thousands more do not.

Steve Taylor, program manager at the center and co-author of the report “Poison in Paint, Toxics in Toys,” said manufacturers have not previously been required to admit use of BPA or NPEs anywhere else in the country, making the release of the list in Maine significant.

In the spring, the Maine Legislature approved a prohibition of BPA use in reusable food and beverage containers, such as children’s sippy cups or baby bottles. BPA is sometimes used in the process of making plastics.

“These chemicals are known to be hormone disruptors which are [found to be] unsafe in studies in animals and humans,” Falmouth pediatrician Jonathan Fanburg said during Tuesday morning’s event. “Science has linked BPAs to changing endocrine hormones in animals, and changing puberty, infant neurodevelopment and obesity in humans.”

NPEs are emulsifiers found in 172 household paints, wood finishes, surface cleaners and stain removers produced by True Value Manufacturing Inc., according to the list, as well as paints produced by PPG Industries Architectural Finishes, Benjamin Moore & Co. and Behr, among many others.

Found on the new Maine list of 280 toys containing BPA are 248 PLAYMOBIL brand figurines and play sets, as well as 17 Chicco baby rattles and toys.

A full searchable list of products found to contain BPA or NPEs can be found at the website www.HealthyStuff.org, according to Taylor.

“As children open holiday gifts, we think only about one thing — the excitement of getting a new toy,” Fanburg’s daughter, Wayneflete School fifth-grader Lily Fanburg said in prepared comments Tuesday. “We don’t think about what it is made of or what chemicals might rub off on us. We trust that our parents, the toy companies and the government will make them safe.”

Joining Taylor and the Fanburgs at the news conference was Julie Wagner, a local mother and leader of a chapter of the Holistic Moms Network.

“When I first learned that many of the products I buy for my kids contain toxic chemicals, I realized that I can’t control what ends up in my kids’ bodies simply by watching what they eat,” Wagner told reporters Tuesday. “As I researched further, I discovered that I couldn’t just assume that any product is safe for my kids. … It can become so overwhelming thinking that the car seats that kids ride in, the packaging their food comes in, and even the clothes they wear can increase the toxic load on my kids’ little systems.”

Taylor said the knowledge of how prevalent BPA and NPEs are in everyday products should provide motivation for federal leaders to seek stronger laws against those chemicals and others deemed harmful.

“Congress should pass the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to fix the broken federal chemical safety system,” Taylor said Tuesday. “Maine’s Senators Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins should help lead the charge by co-sponsoring this legislation.”

Taylor further called upon state officials to “continue to enforce the Kid Safe Products Act” by cracking down on companies that “were required to report BPA or NPE use but did not,” as well as requiring manufacturers to switch to safer alternatives to the chemicals.

Taylor noted that no baby food manufacturer reported use of BPA to the state, but said several such companies have acknowledged continued use of BPA in jar lid linings in past interactions with customers, indicating the possibility that the manufacturers were not complying with Maine law by withholding that information from the DEP.

However, he acknowledged that in the toy industry, “there definitely has been a lot of movement … away from polycarbonate plastics, because of the BPA.”

“It’s not fair to speculate in the absence of information,” Taylor said of the thousands of toys that do not appear on the state’s BPA products list.

That many more toys and products did not appear on the list than do was a fact highlighted by Ben Gilman, senior government affairs specialist with the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.

He said the manufacturer filings with state environmental officials “showed very limited presence of bisphenol-A in children’s products” and argued that the fact that only eight toy makers reported BPA use indicates “the marketplace has already addressed this issue.” Gilman accused the center of overstating the public health risks considering what he described as the relatively small number of products found to use BPA and the low levels of the chemicals found in the products.

“The consensus of government scientists is that BPA is safe for use including in food contact materials intended for infants and toddlers,” Gilman said in a statement. “We are therefore concerned about the continued insistence of the [Environmental Health Strategy Center] to grandstand on this issue and pervade fear into the public — when there is no real risk of harm.”

In the cases of companies that may not have filed with the state but should have, a Maine DEP spokeswoman said Tuesday the department “immediately reached out to them to bring them into compliance and will pursue appropriate enforcement action if they are not willing to do so.”

“Maine DEP will not allow for violations to provide for a competitive advantage against those businesses and individuals who are undertaking environmental stewardship and following our state’s laws,” wrote department spokeswoman Samantha DePoy-Warren to the Bangor Daily News in an email. “Of the thousands and thousands of products in the marketplace, to have just a few hundred with the presence of these potentially toxic ingredients really shows that this process is working and that manufacturers are responding to consumer demand and utilizing safer alternatives in their products.”

For the manufacturers who did report the use of the chemicals to state officials, Fanburg said he hopes the public scrutiny will “put pressure on them” to phase out the chemicals.

“It also puts pressure on consumers to make changes in their habits,” he said.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.