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Maine AG Letter Prompts DEP to Cancel Hearing on Harmful Chemicals Rules
12/18/2013   Reported By: Tom Porter

State environmental regulators have had to cancel a public hearing and withdraw a set of proposed rules designed to monitor the presence of certain chemicals in children's toys. The move comes after Maine's Attorney General advised the Department of Environmental Protection that the rules were drawn up in violation of state law. In a letter, AG Janet Mills says the rules - proposed under Maine's Kids Safe Products Act - cannot proceed as planned because the DEP had not disclosed which four chemicals were affected. Tom Porter has more.

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While the DEP characterized the decision as a minor procedural setback, environmental activists welcomed the news, which they says highlights a set of flawed rules.

"This is just an unacceptable proposal when we know that every day children are exposed to chemicals in their homes," says Tracy Gregoire of Brunswick, who is with the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine, part of a coalition of groups that opposes the rules.

The state, she says, had proposed adding four chemicals to the so-called Priority Chemicals List, meaning manufacturers would be required to report which children's products contain them. But Gregoire describes the proposal as a sham.

"These four chemicals - mercury, cadmium, arsenic and formaldehyde - are nasty chemicals, but this proposal by the DEP does nothing to protect pregnant women and children from these chemicals," she says. "The information is already readily available with a 15-minute Web search."

Critics say the draft rules also fall short in other areas. They cite a recent study which concluded that the rules lack any real public health benefit, because the four chemicals concerned have already been largely phased out of children's products.

Jessamine Logan of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection says the proposed rules are designed to make a difference to children's health.

"We simply do not know whether or not these chemicals are in children's products in Maine," Logan says. "And desginating these as priority chemicals is the only way for the department to mandate that manufacturers report this information."

And it's these reporting requirements, she says, that will help state regulators determine whether or not children are exposed to cancer-causing chemicals.

As for the AG's ruling that the proposed rules are illegal as written, Logan says corrective action has already been taken. "As soon as we realized that we did not include the specific names of the chemicals in our regulatory update, we took immediate action to update that, and to start this rule-making process so we can move forward," she says.

The draft rules have been resubmitted, she says, and the content has not changed - only the timeline. The public hearing, which was supposed to have taken place on Tuesday, will now happen on Jan. 14.

Read Attorney General Janet Mills' letter.

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