Mandating disclosure of phthalates would help consumers make safer choices for their families.
In about two weeks, Maine environmental regulators will have to decide whether they’ll require manufacturers to disclose which of their products contain phthalates: chemicals linked to serious health problems in kids that are in everything from lunch boxes and backpacks to shampoo and shower curtains.
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection now has an opportunity not only to help families make safer shopping choices but also to demonstrate its autonomy from the special interests that have had an outsized impact on environmental policy under the LePage administration.
Maine was at the forefront of consumer protection in 2008, when the Kid-Safe Products Act was passed. The state law – designed to shield fetuses, babies and children from harmful substances – established a process for the DEP to identify “chemicals of high concern” and require manufacturers to disclose any products containing the chemicals.
Legislators overwhelmingly supported the Kid-Safe Products Act. The Maine Medical Association also endorsed it. But oil companies, drug makers and chemical manufacturers didn’t. So when lobbyist Patricia Aho – who’d fought the law on behalf of her industrial clients – was tapped to lead the DEP in 2011, it’s no surprise that efforts to put the measure into action ground to a halt.
Instead, the state tried unsuccessfully to repeal the popular statute and overturn an existing ban on bisphenol-A. For its first 34 months, moreover, the LePage administration failed to regulate any other chemicals under the law.
And last year, the DEP suddenly pulled formaldehyde from its watch list. The agency is now considering regulating phthalates only because it was compelled to do so by a citizen petition.
There are no science-based reasons for the state’s actions – or lack thereof. Indeed, a large body of research shows there are high risks to phthalate exposure, especially among children.
Boys exposed to high levels of phthalates in the womb are more likely than others to be born with deformed genitals and incompletely descended testicles. Compared to other boys, they also face a higher risk of testicular cancer as adults.
Girls exposed in childhood are more likely than others to experience early puberty, which itself is linked to a higher risk of breast cancer in women. In both boys and girls, phthalate exposure has been associated with learning and behavioral problems.
Jan. 28 is the cutoff for the DEP to add four chemicals from the phthalate category to the Kid-Safe Products Act. The decision will show who Maine’s environmental regulators really answer to: the citizens whom they’re supposed to serve, or moneyed special interests.