June 19, 2018
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Uncertain funding places bill to toughen chemical labeling rules in jeopardy

File | BDN
File | BDN
After a years-long debate over whether to ban products containing bisphenol-A, Maine lawmakers this session passed legislation to label products containing the chemical, but the bill is still competing for funding. In this 2009 photo, members of the Maine People's Alliance protest use of the chemical in a wide array of plastic products, including baby bottles, sippy cups and pacifiers.
By Kirsten Sylvain, Special to the Bangor Daily News

AUGUSTA, Maine — After sailing through the Maine House on Wednesday, a bill that would require companies to inform the public that their products contain bisphenol A and other potentially toxic chemicals plunged into financial limbo after the Senate added it to more than 100 pieces of legislation that will compete for undesignated funding.

The bill would require large food and beverage companies to report use of chemicals like BPA and give Maine legislators greater access to data about chemicals, like BPA, that are often found in metal packaging for food and beverages. However, under the amended bill, only companies with gross annual sales exceeding $1 billion will have to report use of the chemicals to the state.

The bill passed the House with more than two-thirds of the chamber’s approval — 108 to 37. Despite this strong show of bipartisan support, whether or not this bill will become a law remains uncertain. If the current $6.3 billion proposed budget becomes a law, there will be $1.25 million left that can be used as funding for the more than 100 bills that have passed without a direct funding commitment.

Sen. Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, sponsor of the bill and Senate majority leader, has been continuing the work of former Democratic House Speaker Hannah Pingree, whose Kid-Safe Product Law was enacted in 2008, during the last Legislature in which Democrats held majorities. Pingree’s law passed through the Senate with a unanimous vote and through the House 129 to 9.

“We’ve always had very strong bipartisan support,” he said. “We’ve had vigorous negotiations that have made the Kid-Safe Act stronger.”

Supporters of the bill in the House argued that Maine parents have the right to know what’s in their food and that the state has the resources to carry out the legislation, despite opposing arguments that the Department of Environmental Protection lacks funding to oversee implementation of the law.

The bill was amended to reduce costs, but the fact that it has any price tag places its final passage in question. Gov. Paul LePage’s administration has opposed similar legislation, so even if the bill moves forward with funding, it could face a veto.

Opponents of the bill, including Rep. Lawrence Lockman, R-Amherst, argued that it would place an unnecessary burden on Maine businesses.

Newell Augur, lobbying on behalf of the Maine Beverage Association, in a testimony before the Committee on the Environment and Natural Resources explained that BPA plays a fundamental role in the Maine beverage business’ production. Augur stated that BPA is used in the lining of metal cans to prevent spoilage and prevent direct contact with the can.

“It has been an essential part of our packing for decades,” he said. However, he emphasized that the amount of BPA in the can linings is below the FDA’s prescribed limit.

Goodall acknowledged the opposition’s argument that the issue of product safety falls under federal purview. But he said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s inaction on regulating chemicals that pose potential risks to children prompted him to push for action at the state level.

“Washington hasn’t acted since the ‘70s on chemicals,” he said. “If Washington doesn’t take action, then the states should, and they have.”

Some studies have shown that BPA may be linked to developmental delay, reproductive problems and certain types of cancer, but currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration maintains that the ingestion of BPA from food at “very low levels” is safe. Maine already named BPA one of its two priority chemicals along with nonylphenols, or NPEs.

“These are serious issues that are long overdue,” Goodall said, “and the louder people speak up and let their voices be heard, especially consumers, the more we can do to make products safe.”

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