January 15, 2013

OUR OPINION: Environmental board should expand BPA ban

Maine took an important step to protect children by phasing out the use of plastic baby bottles and sippy cups that contain the chemical bisphenol-A. The Board of Environmental Protection should go a step further this week and vote to eliminate the chemical from baby food containers as well.

There is a strong body of evidence that bisphenol-A is harmful. BPA was tested in the 1930s to be an estrogen replacement drug, but it was not a success as a pharmaceutical product. The chemical, however, was shown to help keep plastic flexible, making a variety of consumer products possible.

Bisphenol-A is unstable and leeches into liquids. A growing body of evidence links it to birth defects, learning disabilities, behavior problems, breast and prostate cancer, early puberty in girls and other health problems.

Children are the most vulnerable, and it makes sense to remove bisphenol-A from the products they are likely to use. Market forces already are phasing out the chemical from many products, but families should not have to become chemists in the grocery store. The state can help prevent lifelong health problems by expanding the existing ban.

In addition to plastic baby bottles and sippy cups, bisphenol-A is used in the inner coating of cans and the plastic seal under metal jar lids.

When baby food comes in those jars, the chances for exposure increase.

The Bureau of Environmental Protection has the power under the Kids Safe Products Act to expand the existing ban, and it should not be swayed by the usual industry arguments.

Maine will not be alone. Two other states, Connecticut and Vermont, already have banned bisphenol-A in baby food packaging, and others are likely to follow suit. Alternative packages already can be found on store shelves, so there is no chance that baby food customers will be bereft of the products they need.

Some manufacturers already use BPA-free jar lids. Expanding this ban would not create an undue hardship on the companies that make and distribute baby food.

Some will argue that this type of legislation is better handled on the national level, but the federal government has not used its authority to ban bisphenol-A in food packaging. That is more of an indictment of the dysfunctional federal government than it is a case of overreaching on the state level.

This has not been a controversial issue in Maine. Phasing out bisphenol-A has enjoyed bipartisan support here, and that should continue.

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