Since January, baby bottles, sippy cups and reusable food containers in Maine have been free of the chemical hardening agent Bisphenol-A. Now, environmental health activists want the state to eliminate BPA from infant formula, baby and toddler foods. The move comes after tests conducted by The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine and Mainely Moms and Dads also found BPA in those products.
In mid-January, volunteers with The Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine went grocery shopping. They bought a dozen jars of baby food from major brands, like Gerber, Beech-Nut, Earth’s Best Organic, and Wild Harvest. They also selected cans of Chef Boyardee mac ‘n cheese and Campbells Chicken Soup and Spaghettios.
Then they shipped everything off to an independent lab that conducts tests for the food and nutrition industry. Mike Belliveau, the executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, says when the tests came back, “We found BPA in 11 out of the 12 baby food jar lids and all of the canned food,” he says. “And the results are both reliable and shocking.”
They found BPA had leached into the baby food itself, at one to three parts per billion. The canned food had a range up to 134 parts per billion. BPA is a hormone disruptor that has been linked to cancer, learning disabilities and obesity. But just how harmful are those amounts?
“When you say one part per billion, three parts per billion – this is troublesome. Yes. We’re seeing effects at those levels,” says Gail Prins, a professor of physiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She’s been studying BPA for 10 years, and her focus is on the prostate.
“We would suggest that what you’re exposed to early in life can affect whether you’re going to get prostate cancer, or be more likely to develop prostate cancer when you’re older.”
Prins says her colleagues who study breast cancer have drawn similar conclusions about BPA. She says even brief exposure at the developmental stage–just a couple of days–can increase a person’s sensitivity to these cancers. And she says BPA is widespread –it’s found in food containers, store receipts, even in dust.
That’s why Michael Belliveau of the Environmental Health Strategy Center wants the state to expand the BPA ban. But first, he says Maine needs to enforce its current law, which required baby food companies to report the use of BPA in their jars last October.
Two brands, Beech-Nut and Wild Harvest, did not submit a report, and their products are still on Maine store shelves, “even though they’re in violation of Maine law,” Belliveau says. “And that’s not right. And we’re calling on the state to take swift action to bring those companies into compliance with the law.”
But Samantha DePoy-Warren, the spokesperson for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, says implementing Maine’s law is a process that takes time. “The way the regulation is written is that companies are innocent until proven otherwise,” she says.
DePoy-Warren says if a company doesn’t submit a report, the assumption is they’re BPA-free. The DEP doesn’t take action until they receive information that shows otherwise. She says once The Environmental Health Strategy Center showed them the research results, the department began drafting letters to Beech-Nut and Wild Harvest.
DePoy-Warren says the DEP is committed to upholding the regulations on the books, but the first step is to bring companies into compliance. She says it can be challenging to meet regulations that vary state by state.
And because of the strain that puts on businesses, Ben Gilman of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce says Maine should hold off on further BPA regulations. “As soon as the ink is dry on the good work we did this last legislative session, they’re already pushing Maine, really, to go further than anywhere else in the country,” Gilman says.
Environmental health activists say there’s no time to wait. They’re gathering signatures to petition the Board of Environmental Protection to extend the ban on BPA into all food containers over the next three years–first baby food, then toddler food, and finally all canned food.