by Susan Sharon
MPBN radio news story
The chemical industry and out-of-state toy manufacturers oppose it. Gov. Paul LePage has identified it as something he might want to relax. Now, a Republican lawmaker has introduced a bill that would weaken a law designed to protect children from toxic chemicals in everyday products. The bill’s sponsor thinks the law is too broad and wants to change it to protect a shoe company in his district.
Three years ago, the Kid Safe Products Act passed unanimously in the Maine Senate and with overwhelming support in the House. Rep. Jim Hamper, a Republican from Oxford, was one of only nine lawmakers who opposed the bill, which requires manufacturers to disclose which so-called “priority chemicals”–those considered dangerous to kids–are in their products.
Now Hamper is sponsoring L.D. 1129, a bill environmental groups say would dramatically roll back the law. “I think the characterization as a ‘rollback’s is a little bit extreme,” Hamper says. “The object of 1129 is to narrow up the scope of what we passed originally.”
Under current law, the state is authorized to protect children and pregnant women by phasing out the most dangerous chemicals only when “effective, available and affordable alternatives” are available. The chemicals can be regulated after state toxicologists agree that the best available science demonstrates there is a danger of exposure and that the chemicals are hazardous.
But no product can be phased out unless the Legislature approves. Hamper says more than 1,700 chemicals are on a list of those considered potentially dangerous to kids. But only two have been designated “priority chemicals” in the past three years–and only one, Bisphenol A, has been targeted for phase out.
Still, Hamper is worried about the potential consequences for Maine businesses and products. “You know, when you have a shoe manufacturer calling you at night and they’re worried about the list of 1700 chemicals and what’s in it and how that’s going to affect them, you know, you’ve got to pay attention to that sort of thing.”
Hamper says that manufacturer is New Balance in Oxford where shoes are sold, not made. But Amy Dow, a spokesperson for the corporate office of New Balance says her company does not have a position on the law. And neither New Balance nor any other Maine company opposed the Kid Safe Products Act in 2008.
Hamper’s bill would remove current health protections for teenagers and pregnant women and only target toys sold to kids 12 and under. It would also prevent the state from adding new priority chemicals to its list or restricting them unless the government met higher thresholds of scientific proof that they’re hazardous.
“If there’s a chemical that could harm kids and there are products we could be getting that chemical out of that would reduce my child’s exposure or other children’s exposure, we should be doing that.” says Amanda Sears, of the Maine-based Environmental Health Strategy Center, which opposes attempts to weaken the Kid Safe Products Act.
Sears says a recent poll paid for by the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine found that about 90 percent of 400 likely Maine voters support the idea of identifying dangerous chemicals and requiring manufacturers to replace them with safer ones as long as they are both effective and affordable.
She points out that lobbyists for the chemical and toy industry were the major opponents of the original law. But Ben Gilman of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce recently put out an action alert about it. He sees the list of 1,700 chemicals as a threat to business expansion.
“That list is so broad and so encompassing that if you’re a company from outside of Maine or within Maine that’s looking to invest to create jobs, you may look at that list and it may give you pause,” Gilman says.
Amanda Sears says the list is just a list, not a guarantee that anything will be banned. And Matt Prindiville of the Natural Resources Council of Maine calls the Maine Chamber’s action alert “misleading at best and total distortions at worst.”
“They’re saying that medicines are going to be banned under the law. Well, medicines are exempt under the law,” he says. “They say that if any other country bans a chemical than we automatically ban that chemical in Maine. This statement is undeniably false and a complete fabrication, and there’s nothing in the law or the rules which even comes close to supporting this assertion.”
Ben Gilman of the Chamber stands by his action alert, which he says reflects how broadly the law was written and where it could go. A hearing on LD 1129 has been scheduled for March 29th.