November 8, 2010

MAINE COMPASS: Unity College students work toward non-toxic food packaging

Toxic chemicals pervade food packaging, food containers and our bodies.

Under Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act, the state Board of Environmental Protection is considering a ban on bisphenol A (BPA) in baby bottles, sippy cups and packaging for infant formula and baby food.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has found BPA in the bodies of 95 percent of Americans tested. Consumer Reports magazine found BPA in a wide range of food containers and can linings it tested last year.

At Unity College last semester, our advocacy class focused on educating college students about safer food snacks and packaging. We discovered that students eat a lot of snacks in plastic packaging and plastic containers containing BPA, including quick microwave meals and cups for soups and hot liquids. BPA has been found to be more likely to leach into hot liquids.

One favorite snack, microwave popcorn, is packaged with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), which the Board of Environmental Protection has listed as a chemical of high concern under the Kid-Safe Products Act.

None of the college student snack packaging can be banned under the Kid-Safe Products Act, since this law applies only to food and beverage packaging for children under 3 years old.

College students are kids, too. We are also the parents of the next generation.

BPA interferes with the body’s endocrine system and has been linked to breast and prostate cancer, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. BPA also is linked to neurological and developmental damage to fetuses when mothers are exposed during pregnancy. In the developing fetus, even very small amounts of BPA can change breast and prostate tissue in ways that raise cancer risks later in life.

The PFCs in microwave popcorn bags are considered a likely carcinogen and have been found in the blood of 98 percent of Americans tested. PFCs can result in fewer normal sperm and lower concentrations of sperm, and in low birth weight and body mass in newborns.

At the federal level, neither PFCs nor BPA can be banned under the loophole-ridden Toxic Substances Control Act. Only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands, have been taken off the market in 34 years under the toxic substances act.

Four years ago, the federal Environmental Protection Agency asked chemical manufacturers to voluntarily phase out PFCs, but, without any teeth in the federal law, EPA can only ask. The industry decides whether to comply.

So how do we get these chemicals out of our lives?

Unity College, we are providing students with toxic-free alternatives. First-year dorms have microwavable clay pots for making popcorn and electric tea kettles that contain little to no plastic. These small steps will be used to educate students and encourage larger actions.

Our education and advocacy have spurred the student body to get involved in policy change and to sign letters to their state legislators and U.S. senators about keeping toxics out of our lives.

We would like to see all food packaging included under Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act. We would like to see toxics reform at the national level so that EPA has the power to ban hazardous chemicals that harm children and adults.

 You can help us — and future generations of children and college students — by asking your elected representatives at the state and federal level to get rid of the harmful chemicals in the products we use every day. Let’s work together to bring about safer alternatives for a healthier Maine and healthier America.

 You can view a PowerPoint of our class’s work online at You can learn what you can do to help phase out toxic chemicals at the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine website,

Chelsea Ardle, Jamie Nemecek, and Barbara Peabody are students at Unity College. Nancy Ross is professor of environmental policy .

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)