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Maine Environmental Board Backs Limited BPA Ban
01/17/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

The Maine Board of Environmental Protection has unanimously endorsed phasing-out the chemical bisphenol-A from infant formula packaging and baby food containers.  This goes a step further than what staff at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection had recommended to the citizen board.  But as Susan Sharon reports, it also stops short of what a coalition of environmental and public health advocates and mothers had asked for in a petition last year.

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Maine Environmental Board Backs Limited BPA Ban
Originally Aired: 1/17/2013 5:30 PM

See Editor's Note Below.

For Emily Figdor, the mother of two young children and the executive director of Environment Maine, the board's action is validation that bisphenol-A - or BPA - is harmful, that it's present in food packaging and that there are safer alternatives in the marketplace.  She sees it as a triumph of science over politics. 

Two years ago Gov. LePage made headlines when he downplayed the danger of the hormone disrupting chemical BPA, saying in the worst-case scenario it could give some women "little beards."

"I'm really thrilled that the Board of Environmental Protection ignored political pressure from the LePage administration and did the right thing for our kids by banning toxic BPA in baby food jars, and I really applaud the board for the strong action they took today," Figdor says.

Two weeks ago DEP staff recommended that BPA be phased out of infant formula packaging but not baby and toddler food containers. In their memo to the board, staff said the jury is still out on whether baby food containers that contain BPA cause children to be exposed to dangerous levels of the chemical. 

BPA has been linked to cancer, obesity and diabetes.  Health experts are worried about some studies that show it does pose a threat to brain development and can cause behavior problems in children when it leaches out of the inner linings of canned foods. 

Still, board members are not recommending that BPA be phased out from toddler food packaging, something nearly 900 Mainers asked for in a petition to the board last year. 

Steve Taylor is with the Environmental Health Strategy Center. "I think the concern with the toddler food category came about because of this artificial exemption or loophole in the law that only allows the state to address BPA or other chemicals in food packaging if the food is specifically intended for children under three," he says.

In other words, marketing of food products to children is ambiguous - it's difficult to know whether something is intended for kids under, or above, the age of three.  But Abbie King of the Natural Resources Council of Maine says when it comes to BPA, that shouldn't make a difference.  That's why she and other activists say they will introduce legislation this session to tighten regulations for consumer products, under the Kid Safe Products Act.

"So what we're going to be supporting this year are changes to fix that loophole that force the board and the regulatory agency to make an arbitrary distinction between food for adults and food for kids when, really we need to be protecting everyone from BPA."

BPA is already banned from baby bottles and sippy cups.  Before this latest phase-out can take place, the Maine BEP must take a formal vote and the Legislature must approve it.  Activists say they expect opposition from the American Chemistry Council and from the Maine Chamber of Commerce. 

But Emily Figdor of Environment Maine says she's optimistic that the board's action will be supported by lawmakers.  Calls to the American Chemistry Council and the Maine Chamber seeking comment for this story were not returned by airtime.

Editor's Note:  After this story went to air, the American Chemistry Council's Polycarbonate/BPA Global Group released the following statement:

"The consensus of government agencies across the world, including the experts at FDA, is that based on the science, BPA is safe for use in food-contact materials. As recently as September, Health Canada reviewed the science on BPA and stated that based on the overall weight of evidence: 'that current dietary exposure to BPA through food packaging uses is not expected to pose a health risk to the general population, including newborns and young children.'

"It is important to allow the federal government's regulatory authorities to make science-based decisions and not to create patchwork state restrictions when it comes to consumer products. BPA is one of the most thoroughly tested chemicals used today and has a safety track record of 50 years."



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