AUGUSTA, Maine — Members of the state’s Board of Environmental Protection voiced unanimous support Thursday for a measure extending Maine’s ban on the chemical bisphenol A to infant formula packaging and baby food containers, agreeing there’s clear evidence babies are exposed to the chemical — commonly known as BPA — and that BPA-free alternatives are widely available.
The board, however, stopped short of suggesting a BPA ban in toddler food containers that had been sought by a citizens’ petition. Board members plan to take a formal vote on the measure next week. Their recommendation would then go to lawmakers, and a ban could take effect as soon as Aug. 15.
The Board of Environmental Protection’s decision followed months of hearings and deliberations after a coalition of environmental groups submitted a citizens ’ petition last June requesting an expanded ban.
Maine already bans BPA from certain children’s products, including baby bottles and sippy cups, under the 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act. The petitioners argued that the 2008 law gives the Board of Environmental Protection authority to recommend a broader ban on the chemical, which is found in hundreds of products ranging from water bottles to CDs to receipt paper.
BPA is an endocrine disruptor that some studies have linked to cancer, learning disabilities, infertility and other health problems. In food packaging, the chemical is used to prevent corrosion of metal and protect food from contamination.
To recommend extending Maine’s BPA ban, Board of Environmental Protection members had to determine that children are exposed to BPA through infant formula and baby and toddler food packaging and that BPA-free alternatives are widely available at comparable cost.
Thursday’s board meeting came two weeks after the state Department of Environmental Protection recommended the state extend its BPA ban to packaging used for infant formula, but not to baby and toddler food containers.
The DEP cited a range of studies that found evidence of BPA exposure through infant formula packaging and wide availability of BPA-free alternatives. Department staff members found that infant formula manufacturers representing 97 percent of the market had switched to BPA-free packaging.
The DEP, however, said it didn’t find enough scientific evidence to conclude babies are exposed to BPA through baby food containers. In addition, the DEP also said it didn’t have a complete analysis concluding that affordable, BPA-free packaging alternatives were widely available to consumers.
On toddler food, the DEP recommended against a BPA ban because of the difficulty in defining food “intentionally marketed” to children younger than 3.
BEP members Thursday came out against the DEP’s recommendation against a BPA ban on baby food containers, saying there’s clear evidence of BPA exposure to babies and clear evidence that BPA-free alternatives are available.
Board members received evidence showing that about 92 percent of the baby food market has switched or has begun to switch to BPA-free packaging, including Gerber, the largest baby food manufacturer, said Wing Goodale, a BEP member from Falmouth.
“When we think of baby food, we think Gerber,” he said. “When they’re moving away from it, I think it’s very clear that the marketplace has alternatives.”
Board members agreed with the DEP, however, on the agency’s recommendation against banning BPA from toddler food packaging, given the difficulty of defining and regulating food marketed to toddlers.
“Laws should be certain,” said Dick Gould, a board member from Greenville. “Businesses should be able to interpret what the laws say.”
But board members expressed a desire ultimately to ban BPA from all products, although Maine law currently doesn’t allow them to take that step.
“This is not the end of it,” Gould said. “I think it’s time we do as much as we possibly can to stop poisoning our kids and poisoning our adults, and I do consider this to be poison.”
Gov. Paul LePage — who has opposed Maine’s partial ban on BPA and drew criticism early in his tenure in office for saying BPA’s worst effect is that “ some women may have little beards” — said last week that a BPA ban was unnecessary and would make Maine less competitive economically.
“The FDA went through the whole process and they have not found any reason to ban it from American shelves,” he told reporters. “By banning it just here in Maine and not the rest of the country, we’re doing the same thing we’ve been doing to ourselves for years. We make ourselves less competitive, more costly.”
Advocates behind last year’s citizens’ petition to extend Maine’s BPA ban said Thursday they’re preparing a legislative push this winter to ban BPA from all packaging used for all — not just children’s — food.
“We really appreciate the board standing up to the LePage administration,” said Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine. “Now we need to close the loophole that allows BPA in the food that older children and pregnant women eat.”