By Janet Mills, Special to the BDN
Bangor Daily News op-ed
Ever wonder what’s in that baby bottle your infant uses? The teether she chews on? The toys your kids climb on and fall on, and the ones they put in their mouths?
More and more families are concerned about health and safety as kids’ exposure to very toxic substances rises to an all-time high. The public’s right to know and our children’s right to safety in their cribs, beds and supper tables demand stronger federal action.
Maine is at the forefront of protecting families from deadly chemicals in everyday household items. The Kid-Safe Products Act, enacted in 2008, requires the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to review and prioritize chemicals and gives the agency the authority to collect information from manufacturers, as well as restrict the use of “priority chemicals.” For example, BPA, which is a powerful hormone disruptor, was named Maine’s first priority chemical, and it has been sensibly phased out of use in baby bottles, sippy cups and infant formula.
Only a small handful of the nearly 84,000 chemicals registered for use in America are currently subject to any federal regulations, and more than 60,000 of these chemicals have grandfathered out of mandated safety review under the federal laws governing these substances. Maine law filled the void left by outdated and underenforced federal laws.
The efforts of Maine and other state legislatures have spurred Congress to act. Finally, the federal government is working on updating the Toxic Substances Control Act, which has not been amended since originally enacted in 1976.
Drafts of this federal legislation, however, threaten to undermine the progress of the states in protecting children and pregnant women from harmful chemicals. A draft bill being considered in both the U.S. House and Senate would take the states out of the picture entirely. The bill would preempt state laws and would leave it up to a private citizen to bring a lawsuit in federal court in order to hold manufacturers or retailers accountable. If a state wanted to find out more about a particular chemical, it would not be able to do so.
I have joined a dozen other attorneys general in opposing the preemption provisions of the Chemicals in Commerce Act, while supporting testing of chemicals and tougher enforcement of the laws by the federal government. As has often been said, the states are a laboratory of democracy; the fruits of the most successful experiments by the states should not be set aside in such cavalier fashion by Congress.
State initiatives such as Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act could serve as a blueprint for reform of the Toxic Substances Control Act without supplanting important efforts by individual states to protect citizens. I urge Maine’s congressional delegation to support the public’s health by updating this 38-year old law and at the same time rejecting the preemption provisions and supporting the right of the states to protect the public safety. Only then will our people know what’s in the teether, the sippy cups, the toys and bottles our children use every day.
Janet T. Mills is Maine’s attorney general.