Maine’s Priority Chemicals

By Sally Chappell
Guest Columnist

It’s a chemical found in the bodies of 93% of Americans. Used as a hormone replacement drug starting in the 1930s, it was applied to other purposes in later decades until today it is one of the most widely used chemicals. Six billion pounds a year is produced for making polycarbonate plastic, linings of food cans and thermal imaging paper used for cash register receipts. Learning disabilities, behavior problems, breast and prostate cancer, reproductive damage, diabetes and obesity have been linked to this chemical: bisphenol A, abbreviated as BPA.

A chemical formerly found in many cleaning and personal care products and still used in institutional settings turned breast cells cancerous in a lab at Tufts University in the late 1980s. Researchers were puzzled because they had not altered anything about the experiment. After months of mystery, the cause of the cancerous breast cells was traced to the plastic tubing used by the lab. Unbeknownst to researchers, the manufacturer (Corning) had changed the formula. Because Corning would not (and legally did not have to) reveal the make-up of the new formula, independent testing confirmed the new chemical used in the plastic tubing: p-nonylphenol (from Our Stolen Future, Colborn, Dumanoski, and Myers).

Both of the chemicals described above confuse endocrine systems by mimicking the female hormone estrogen and are therefore termed endocrine disruptors. Both of the chemicals/chemical groups are listed as the first priority chemicals by the Board of Environmental Protection under the Kid-Safe Products Act passed almost unanimously by the Maine State Legislature in 2008. Bisphenol A and the nonylphenols are considered the worst chemicals out of 1,700 chemicals of high concern listed by the Board of Environmental Protection.

The American Chemistry Council lobbied intensively against the Kid-Safe Products Act. How can industry-funded scientists proclaim BPA, the nonylphenols and a host of other chemicals to be safe? They can say it because thousands of chemicals have not legally been proven to be unsafe! The burden of proof lies with government agencies being systematically stripped through under funding.

A 1993 Supreme Court decision (Daubert vs. Merrill Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc.) provides a devastating example of our nation’s highest judicial body failing to protect the safety of its citizens. Scholars have dubbed the decision, the “Most Influential Supreme Court Ruling You’ve Never Heard Of” as reported by Devra Davis in her book, The Secret History of the War on Cancer. She informs her readers that, “It rejected experimental studies in animals altogether as irrelevant to human harm. In doing so, the Court ruled that the only proof of harm that could pass muster was sufficient numbers of sick, deformed or dead children to have made it into published epidemiological studies.”

The federal guidelines for proof of harm are too stringent; the likelihood that proof can be achieved is practically nil. That’s just how the American Chemistry Council would like it to remain, but states are now tackling the problems on their own.

The Kid-Safe Products Act is modeled after the European approach to chemical safety where the burden of proof of safety lies with the manufacturer. Rather than a total ban, Maine would require baby bottles, sippy cups, all reusable food and beverage containers and five-gallon water cooler bottles to be BPA-free. It would allow manufacturers to include priority chemicals in products where an economically viable alternative is not available. The goal of the Kid-Safe Products Law is to set rules so that the green chemistry momentum picks up with the marketing of safer chemicals. Rather than inhibit job growth, initiatives to provide safer chemicals will promote job growth.

Maine Governor Paul LePage has called for repeal of the Kid Safe Products Act and for Maine to rely on federal standards when it comes to regulatory laws, standards that are already too low to protect people from conditions and diseases that are becoming painfully obvious in their rising rates of occurrences.  Endocrine disrupting chemicals like BPA and nonylphenols do their most damage to the unborn, babies and young children. Over 200 synthetic chemicals have been found in the cord blood of newborn infants.

Eight other states, Canada and the European Union have outlawed BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups.  Laws reflect current public attitudes. The anti-regulatory mood in the nation right now has to be exposed for its bias in favor of large corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens. I hope others will join me in calling on Sen. David Hastings and Rep. Paul Waterhouse to uphold the Kid-Safe Products Act and to confirm the BPA rule in any upcoming votes to allow full implementation of this necessary law.

Sally Chappell is a resident of Bridgton.

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