Enacted in 2008 by overwhelming bipartisan margins (125-9 in the House, 35-0 in the Senate), Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act represents a strong commitment by state government to protect our children’s health from exposure to unnecessary and dangerous chemicals in everyday consumer products.
Even so, early in the 125th Legislature, the Kid-Safe Products Act initially was the target of a Republican lawmaker’s rollback bill.
A separate measure to ban bisphenol-A — a chemical used in children’s products such as baby bottles and sippy cups that was named a “chemical of high concern” under the Kid-Safe Products Act — also was challenged by Gov. Paul LePage. His bid to discredit concerns over BPA was quickly derailed by the governor’s famously inaccurate quip about BPA’s worst harm to human health being that some women might grow “little beards.”
To their credit, lawmakers in the 125th Legislature decisively reaffirmed both measures.
They voted 35-0 in the Senate and 145-3 in the House to phase out BPA in reusable food and beverage containers. A bipartisan compromise bill that narrowed the scope of the 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act to 70 chemicals (instead of the original 1,700) also was approved unanimously in both chambers of the Legislature.
Maine lawmakers clearly put “people before politics” and followed the wishes of 91 percent of Mainers surveyed in a February poll, who said our state should flag the most dangerous chemicals used to make consumer products, and want manufacturers to replace those chemicals if safer ones are available and affordable.
Maine citizens have every reason, then, to expect Gov. Paul LePage and his acting Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Patricia Aho to fully implement and enforce the amended Kid-Safe Products Act. They also have a right to expect that DEP will make sure manufacturers meet the first deadline required by the new BPA phase-out rule — a submission of compliance plans in early July detailing how they will comply with Maine’s ban on selling products containing BPA that takes effect on Jan. 1, 2012.
All of this is context for troubling questions raised by the executive director of the Portland-based Environmental Health Strategy Center in a letter sent Wednesday to Aho. In his letter, Michael Belliveau seeks an explanation for recent staffing changes at DEP that either eliminated or reassigned staff members who had been involved in the state’s Safer Chemicals in Children’s Products program:
— An alleged elimination of a half-time data management position, which collected data to be reported by manufacturers on the use of “priority chemicals” in their products.
— An alleged reassignment of an environmental specialist who had been responsible for implementing the Safer Chemicals program and had testified on her own time against the legislation supported by the LePage administration that would have significantly rolled back the Kid-Safe Products Act.
— An alleged removal of the supervisor of the Safer Chemicals program, raising questions about who, if anyone, is doing that job.
Belliveau also asks Aho how DEP plans to make sure manufacturers of products containing BPA actually meet “the early July 2011 deadline for submission of compliance plans to timely achieve the approved BPA phase-out by Jan. 1, 2012?”
“Individually, these actions appear to at least temporarily destabilize the Safer Chemicals program,” Belliveau wrote. “Collectively, they suggest a pattern that causes greater concern about the ability of the department to fulfill legislative intent and meet public expectations.”
Aho, a Pierce Atwood lobbyist prior to her appointment as acting DEP commissioner — whose 2011 client list included the American Chemistry Council and the American Petroleum Institute — obviously should reply fully and quickly to these question and concerns.
Otherwise, Maine citizens would have good reason to wonder how committed Aho and the LePage administration are to fulfilling their duties under the Kid-Safe Products Act.