New Study Reveals Pollution in Maine People, Urges Action by Lawmakers
The chemical industry and government safety systems came under fire on Tuesday as medical professionals, sponsors, and participants gathered at the State House to talk about the results of a study on the pollution found in the bodies of Maine people. The report, “Body of Evidence,” tested 13 citizens from across Maine for 71 chemicals in their bodies. Toxic industrial chemicals were found in every person tested. Called “pollution in people” by the report’s sponsors, the chemicals found can cause learning disabilities, cancer, birth defects, infertility and hormone disruption.
Sandra Cort, board member and past president of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine identified the report as a call to action. Cort stated, “According to the National Academy of Sciences, exposure to toxic chemicals is part of the root cause in over a quarter of the cases of learning disabilities. We must shift the burden onto the chemical industry to prove that chemicals are safe before they are allowed into commerce, our homes, and the bodies of our children.”
The report concludes that most chemical pollution happens in the course of our daily lives, and that most people are unaware they are being exposed by common household and personal products and plastics. The study found an average of 36 industrial chemicals in each participant, including PBDE flame retardants from couches and televisions; PFCs (the Teflon chemicals) from stain resistant furniture, clothing, fast food paper and nonstick cookware; phthalates from nail polish, cosmetics and soft vinyl plastic such as shower curtains; bisphenol A from reusable Nalgene water bottles and the plastic linings of food cans; and the toxic metals mercury from polluted fish, lead from old paint, and arsenic from well water and old pressure treated wood.
Michael Belliveau, Executive Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said, “This study shows that our safety system for industrial chemicals is badly broken. Hazardous chemicals don’t belong in our bodies. We need government action to prevent pollution in people. We need a new chemical policy that ensures the safety of everyday products, especially for developing babies and children. The Maine Legislature should fix the broken safety system for industrial chemicals by enacting a chemicals policy that requires safer alternatives to the worst chemicals.”
Medical professionals responded to the report with concern about the continued use of known hazardous chemicals and the lack of industry health and safety testing on most chemicals used in the products people consider everyday household items. Former Maine State Health Officer Dr. Lani Graham remarked, “From a public health perspective, there is no time to waste. We have a window of opportunity to address this problem that is fast slamming shut. We need a comprehensive approach to minimize the use of hazardous chemicals in our environment that is based on science, not on guesswork.”
The participants attending the release of the report each had a different story to tell but they were consistent in their demand for action from state government. Interestingly, two of the participants are lawmakers themselves. Hannah Pingree, a legislator from North Haven, had high levels in several chemical categories. She was outraged by the results of the study and quick to demand action. Pingree stated, “Maine is a leader and change starts here. We can’t wait for the federal government. I say to my fellow legislators, ‘if I have toxic chemicals in my system, you do too.’ It’s our job to protect the people of Maine. We need action now.”
The study was conducted, and Body of Evidence report produced, by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, a coalition of Maine-based organizations committed to protecting human health from toxic chemical exposure. Partners of the Alliance include: the Environmental Health Strategy Center; Learning Disabilities Association of Maine; Maine Labor Group on Health; Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association; Maine People’s Resource Center; Maine Public Health Association; Natural Resources Council of Maine; Physicians for Social Responsibility/Maine Chapter; and Toxics Action Center. Forty-eight organizations, representing health-affected children, workers, doctors, public health professionals, environmentalists, and impacted communities, have endorsed the Alliance.