March 30, 2012

OUR OPINION: Outdated science can't protect us from new toxins

A 1970s law based on 1960s science is all we have to protect us from toxic substances in our environment.

Regulations that envisioned smokestacks and drainpipes as the prime sources of dangerous chemicals should be updated to look out for toys, baby shampoo and a variety of consumer products as the vehicles for dangerous chemicals to enter our bodies and harm us.

Such a bill is now before Congress, and Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins should sign on as co-sponsors.

This is not a new issue for Maine. In 2008, we passed the Kids Safe Product Act, and despite some push back from the governor last year, it remains a popular law with broad bipartisan support.

Maine set up a comprehensive system to identify, evaluate and in some cases require the use of alternatives to toxic products. Last year, the ban on bisphenol-A (or BPA) received nearly unanimous support in the Legislature.

Maine is one of four states to take this approach -- which is part of the problem. Businesses that use chemicals in their products have to juggle different standards in a regulatory patchwork depending on where they sell their products. Maine businesses may face competitors in other states who don't have the same regulations.

Protecting state businesses would be one good reason for Snowe and Collins to sign on to the bill. Protecting Maine people, especially children, is an even better reason.

Unlike food products, manufacturers of toys, cosmetics and cleaning aids don't have to list ingredients. Children and pregnant women are most vulnerable to damage from chemicals contained in a variety of products and have no way of knowing how to protect themselves.

BPA is found in baby bottles and sippy cups. Phtalates are in soft rubber toys and some personal care products. The flame retardant Deca is in furniture stuffing and other toys.

All can cause lifelong problems for children who are exposed. Studies indicate that as much as 25 percent of learning difficulties are related to environmental causes.

A federal law that cleans up our household products the way earlier environmental laws cleaned up the air and water is a much-needed next step. Snowe and Collins should assist in this effort.

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