August 20, 2010

Mothers speak out against controversial chemical

Board of Environmental Protection

AUGUSTA -- Cheryl Denis of Portland is worried about the health of her two young girls.

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Mike Belliveau, of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, holds up bisphenol-A-free baby food containers while testifying before the The Board of Environmental Protection. Maine's Department of Environmental Protection has recommended that bisphenol-A, or BPA, become the state's first "Priority Chemical" under the state's Kid-Safe Products Act. If supported by the BEP, the proposal will then go to the Legislature for final passage.

Staff photo by Joe Phelan

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She testified Thursday before the state's Board of Environmental Protection in support of proposed rules to ban the sale of baby bottles, sippy cups and sports bottles that contain the chemical bisphenol-A.

Environmental activists say the chemical has been linked to problems with brain and hormone development in children.

"Would any of us knowingly give our children estrogen, even in small doses, every day?" asked Denis, leader of Mom to Mom of Maine, a group of 275 southern Maine moms. "Of course not. But the shocking truth is that BPA is playing hormone havoc with pregnant women and children everywhere."

The board is considering a proposal written by the state Department of Environmental Protection that would ban the manufacture, sale or distribution of certain products aimed at children that contain bisphenol-A.

The rules were mandated by a 2008 state law that required the state to list "chemicals of concern." By January , the state is required to have designated at least two of the 1,700 chemicals on the list as priority chemicals.

The process Thursday focused on the first of the two chemicals, bisphenol-A, which is used to make clear, shatter-resistant plastics. The chemical has already been banned in certain products sold in Connecticut, Maryland, Minnesota, Washington, Wisconsin and New York.

While a large group of environmentalists, Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro -- the Democratic candidate for governor -- and House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, all testified for the BPA ban, representatives of the chemical and grocery industry spoke against it.

Steve Hentges of the American Chemistry Council in Arlington, Va., said he has studied bisphenol-A for 10 years. He said the evidence that the chemical harms children is not conclusive.

"There really isn't any support for listing BPA as a chemical of high concern in the first place," he said.

The chemical, which helps strengthen plastics so they don't shatter, is used in lids on glass jars and makes canned food more sanitary, said Greg Costa of the Grocery Manufacturers Association in Washington D.C.

He said it helps prevent "incidents of botulism and food poisoning."

"We all like to interpret science in the way science suits us," he said. "BPA is globally recognized by experts and governments to be safe."

But his testimony contradicted statements by scientist Jennifer Sass of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national nonprofit that seeks to protect public health and the environment. She cited other studies that linked BPA to cardiovascular disease and sexual dysfunction.

"Existing research on BPA is compelling and convincing for a wide variety of harmful health effects at low doses and has been replicated by many independent laboratories," she said.

Michael Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said the proposal from the state doesn't go far enough. He said the chemical has already been removed from most baby bottles, sippy cups and water bottles. The proposed rules should be expanded to include infant formula and baby food containers, and toys, he said.

"The proposed rule fails to eliminate the greatest source of BPA exposure to young children -- food packaging," he said. "BPA leaches from the linings of metal cans and lids to significantly contaminate infant formula, baby food and food items intentionally marketed for toddlers."

The public comment period on the rules runs until Aug. 30. The board will vote at a future meeting on whether to approve, deny or amend the rules.


Susan Cover -- 620-7015

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