It’s obvious that kids live in our house from the moment you walk in. Their little jackets, shoes and backpacks are in the mudroom, their toys and school supplies are scattered around the family room, and kid shampoo and toothbrushes are on the bathroom counter.
Maine families should be able to have these kinds of everyday items in their homes without worry. But products such as these can contain phthalates, a class of chemicals that disrupt hormones and are linked to health problems ranging from reproductive organ damage to learning disabilities and asthma to allergies.
Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to phthalates exposure. But while these harmful toxins can be present in common household items — they are used as softeners in plastics and PVC products and as solvents and fragrance carriers in personal care products — it’s hard for families to know with certainty.
Maine has the opportunity to do the right thing for families who want to avoid phthalates. Under a proposed rule that is before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, manufacturers of household products would have to let consumers know when those items contain phthalates.
This is a common-sense measure that empowers consumers. Although safe alternatives are available, the use of phthalates has increased dramatically over the past 50 years and they are more common than you might expect.
In addition to the items I mentioned already, phthalates can also be in diaper covers, floor tiles, wallpaper, car seats, printed t-shirts and a host of other products. Because of their particular chemical properties, phthalates are able to move into the air, water, dust — and, yes, into us.
Earlier this year, 25 Mainers participated in a test to check for the presence of phthalates in their blood. All of them had the chemicals present in their bodies and, for some, at much higher levels than the national average. All of them had at least five of the seven types of phthalates tested.
There are some ways you can try to reduce your exposure to phthalates. You can try to avoid PVC items, which are sometimes labeled with the number 3 inside a triangle, and products that have “fragrance” as an ingredient. Some manufacturers do put “PVC-free” or “phthalate-free” on products.
But this experiment showed that consumers can’t simply shop their way out of phthalate exposure. Some of the participants consider themselves careful shoppers but were not able to keep the chemicals out of their bodies.
The United States has acknowledged the danger of phthalates. Six types are already banned for use in kids’ toys and certain other items for children under the age of 3. Given what we know about the dangers of phthalates, doesn’t it make sense to provide additional protection to our citizens?
We can take a big step forward if the Maine Department of Environmental Protection acts. The department already recognizes phthalates as “chemicals of high concern.” Moving phthalates up to the “priority status” level would allow consumers to have the information they need to make informed decisions about what kinds of chemicals should and should not be in their homes and in their bodies.
My wife and I want to protect our daughter and son from toxic chemicals. We want to be certain that the bubbles in the bathtub and the shower curtain hanging from the rod aren’t posing a risk to them. We want to be able to know that chemicals aren’t leaching out from their notebooks and lunchboxes. We want to be sure that the paint and the floor coverings we chose aren’t filled with toxins that are going to increase their risk of asthma, allergies or worse.
These are the kinds of things all parents want for their kids. We need to make sure they have the information they need to do that.
Rep. Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, is the assistant House majority leader.