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  • Parents call out Maine DEP for ignoring science and risk to pregnant women in recent rule-making

    By Ramona du Houx

     Maine parents are not letting the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) off the hook for what some say is “symbolism over substance” in the DEP’s recent decision to significantly narrow the scope of a citizen-initiated rule on chemicals called phthalates.  Citing a new national report released yesterdaythat identifies even more products on store shelves that contain phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates), Maine moms are calling on the DEP to reverse themselves.

    “Maine parents and pregnant women have a right to know which everyday products contain hormone-disrupting chemicals called phthalates,” said Tracy Gregoire, Coordinator Healthy Children’s Project for the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine.  “The DEP is blatantly disregarding the science and the intent of Maine lawmakers who explicitly wrote the Kid-Safe Products Act to protect children and pregnant women from harmful chemicals.”

    Three weeks ago the DEP proposed extensive changes to a citizen-led proposal to name four phthalates as Priority Chemicals under Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act and require manufacturers to report their use in household products sold in Maine.  Instead, the DEP proposed limiting phthalate reporting to only those products intended for children under the age of 12 for cosmetics, personal care products, clothing, footwear, personal accessories, and craft supplies.  Everyday products used by teenagers and adults, including pregnant women, would be exempt from the reporting requirement.  

    This report from the Campaign for Healthier Solutions is called A Day Late and a Dollar Short: Discount Retailers are Falling Behind on Safer Chemicals.  It includes testing results for 164 products purchased in “dollar stores”, including toys, jewelry, school supplies and other household items.  Over 81 percent (133 of 164) of products tested contained at least one hazardous chemical above levels of concern, including toxic phthalates and metals like lead.  Of the products tested for phthalates, 12 out of 38 contained levels of phthalates above the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) limit for children’s products.

    Gregoire added, “Now we know what we suspected – that we are surrounded by household products containing high levels of phthalates, including some of the products that were tested at dollar stores, like non-slip tub mats, bathtub appliqués, vinyl floor runners, pencil pouches, and steering wheel covers.  All these products contained (di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, which is one of the priority phthalates in Maine’s proposed rule.  But many of the products that contain phthalates, like the pencil case, are the very products that the DEP has excluded from reporting by narrowing the scope of the rule.  That’s simply unacceptable.” 

    Other key findings from A Day Late and a Dollar Short include:

    • 49 percent of products tested (80 of 164) contained two or more hazardous chemicals above levels of concern;
    • 38 percent of the products tested (63 of 164) contained the toxic plastic PVC (vinyl);
    • 32 percent of a subset of vinyl products tested for phthalates (12 of 38) contained levels of phthalates above the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) limit for children’s products.

    Phthalates are commonly used in consumer products found in the home.  They are used in soft vinyl plastics, such as lunch boxes, kids’ backpacks, school supplies, rain jackets, packaging, and flooring. They are also hidden behind the word “fragrance”, where they end up in cosmetics, lotions, and other personal care products. 

    “It is critical that pregnant women have the information they need to have a healthy pregnancy,” said Gregoire.  “These testing results show that the DEP’s decision to limit the reporting of phthalates to products intentionally marketed to young children ignores the overwhelming scientific evidence of harm during fetal exposure. This report shines a light on the truth that the use of hormone-disrupting phthalates goes well beyond children’s products. It couldn’t be any more apparent that our phthalates reporting must include products that expose pregnant women.”

    Discount retail stores are a growing part of the economy. The four largest chains collectively operate over 21,500 stores nationally, more than Walmart.  In Maine there are dozens of Dollar Store Marketplace, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree stores.

    “Sadly, we don’t know how many countless products, such as lotions and shampoos, contain toxic phthalates - and unless the DEP revises its changes to the rule, we may never know, said Gregoire.  “We can’t shop our way out of this problem, whether we shop at a dollar store, a corner store, or a big box store.”

    According to the National Academy of Sciences, exposures to toxic chemicals cause about 3 percent of all developmental disabilities, and contribute to another 25 percent. Learning and developmental disabilities, including autism, carry heavy costs for families, communities, and our economy. In Maine, over 13,000 children and 127,000 adults have learning disabilities and thousands more have attention deficit disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD).

    On average, it costs school systems twice as much to educate a child with special needs.  Caring for a child with Autism costs an estimated $17,000 more per year to cover education, health care, and therapies. Autism services cost the U.S. $236-262 billion annually. The annual societal cost of ADHD is estimated to be between $36 and $52 billion every year.  

    Asked what’s next for the concerned Maine parents, Gregoire said, “The DEP has ignored the overwhelming scientific evidence, the 1600 public comments in support of the citizen’s proposal, the lack of opposition, and the clear intent of lawmakers who have supported Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act over the past seven years. They have chosen to circumvent Maine lawmakers and narrow the focus to suit the chemical industry and product makers.  Their proposal can and must be changed.  In the weeks to come we will be urging the DEP to support healthy pregnancies and drop their proposed roll-back of the phthalates rule.  We need Maine lawmakers to help us correct this wrong and support parents’ and pregnant women’s right to know which products contain these dangerous chemicals.”