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Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine
3/27/2013

Legislature Readies for Another Conflict over BPA and Babies’ Health

Public Hearings Scheduled: Governor LePage & Chemical Industry Expected to Oppose Getting Toxic Chemical out of Food Packaging

(AUGUSTA) For the second time in two years the Maine Legislature will be asked to referee a fight that pits moms, physicians, and health scientists against a national chemical industry coalition and Governor Paul LePage. At issue is the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA, or bisphenol A, and the next battleground are two legislative hearings announced this morning that are slated for April 10th and 11th in Augusta.

In 2011, lawmakers overwhelmingly supported getting BPA out of plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, despite the Governor’s vocal and headline-grabbing opposition that included his famously-inaccurate "little beards" comment. The Maine Legislature upheld that BPA rule by a combined vote of 180 to 3, and the Governor allowed it to become law without his signature.

This year, the Legislature will take up a citizen-initiated proposal to eliminate BPA from infant formula and baby food packaging that was passed unanimously by Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection in January. The public hearing for this BPA rule, LD 902, has been scheduled for 1 p.m. on April 10th in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

"Protecting babies from the hormone havoc of BPA is just common sense," said Amanda Sears, Associate Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, a Maine-based public health organization. "The Governor’s relentless opposition and disregard for the science pose a real threat to children’s health. Maine moms won’t stand for a veto of the BPA rule by the Governor, and the Legislature shouldn’t either."

In January, every member of Maine’s independent Board of Environmental Protection, including four LePage appointees, unanimously adopted a citizen-initiated rule to prohibit the sale of infant formula cans and baby food jars containing BPA. But the Board rejected the proposed ban on BPA in canned toddler food, citing a loophole in current law that leaves children over three and pregnant women unprotected from toxic BPA in their food.

Governor LePage opposed any action on BPA, as did a coalition of five national industry groups including major chemical manufacturers. His agency, the Department of Environmental Protection, also formally opposed phasing out BPA in baby food packaging, despite the results of their own report that determined safer alternatives to BPA are widely available for food packaging for nursing infants and babies.

"The Governor is an outlier on this," stated Kathy Kilrain del Rio, Communications Coordinator for the Maine Women’s Policy Center. "We know there is overwhelming bipartisan support and momentum for protecting children from the dangers of BPA. We’re confident the Maine Legislature will continue to stand up for Maine kids and families."

In a recent public opinion survey, 87% of Mainers approve of replacing the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA with safer alternatives in packaging for infant formula, baby food, and toddler food, according to a poll conducted at the time of the November election.

The Legislature must authorize final adoption of the BPA rule, and override a potential veto from Governor LePage. Health advocates will press the Legislature to include the phase-out of BPA in canned foods intentionally marketed (e.g. using animated cartoon characters) to children under age three in the final rule. In dropping the original canned toddler food proposal, Board of Environmental Protection members expressed frustration that they couldn’t do more to protect older children as well as babies in the womb from exposure to BPA.

Senator Seth Goodall (D-Richmond) has introduced legislation that would close the food packaging loophole and allow for an eventual phase-out of BPA from all canned food. Canned food is considered the greatest source of BPA exposure among pregnant women and it is estimated that overall BPA exposure could be reduced by two thirds if food packaging were BPA-free. The public hearing for Goodall's bill, LD 1181, has been set for 1pm on April 11th, also in the Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

"If the Legislature adopts the BPA rule as is, they’ll be leaving older children and pregnant women unprotected," said Abby King with the Natural Resources Council of Maine. "A loophole in the current law creates a dangerous and arbitrary line for determining which kids will be protected from toxic chemicals in their food and which ones won’t. Senator Goodall's bill will give Maine regulators the authority to get BPA out of food that pregnant women and toddlers eat. This bill will protect kids and prevent costly chronic disease, and that’s good for all of us."

"If the legislature agrees with the Board of Environmental Protection that the food packaging exemption in the Kid-Safe Products Act is a barrier to protecting kids, they should act to remove that barrier by supporting Senator Goodall’s bill," said Tracy Gregoire with the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine. "BPA is a known hormone-disruptor that has no place at the dinner table."

Recent health studies have shown that children born to mothers who were exposed to the highest levels of BPA during pregnancy have higher rates of hyperactivity, stress, and impulsive behavior. Young children are exposed to BPA when the chemical leaks from the inner lining of canned foods, including infant formula, and the metal lids of glass jars, including baby food. State and federal health agencies are concerned that BPA will harm brain development, cause behavior problems and adversely affect the prostate. BPA is a known hormone disruptor that has also been linked to cancer, obesity, and diabetes.

Last year, Maine named 49 Chemicals of High Concern, a list that identifies chemicals proven through strong, scientific evidence to cause cancer, reproductive problems, and hormone disruption. But no action has been proposed by the LePage Administration to reduce exposure to these chemicals, leaving parents, businesses, and health professionals frustrated and calling on lawmakers for information and action.

Maine Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall's bill, "An Act To Further Protect Pregnant Women and Children from Toxic Chemicals", will also identify which products contain the 49 "worst-of-the-worst" chemicals and set priorities for action to get those chemicals out of household products that Maine children encounter every day.

Posted on 3/27/2013 (Archive on 4/17/2013)

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