Maine’s approach to rid toxic chemicals from children’s products national model

By Ramona du Houx

November 17th, 2010

A new report released today documents how state legislatures across the country have responded to the growing body of scientific evidence that children are regularly exposed to dangerous chemicals in food, toys, and other household products. It highlights the overwhelming bipartisan approach that Maine lawmakers have taken to protect children’s health and reduce the long-term health costs that can result from early chemical exposure.

Sandra Cort, Board Member and Past President of the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine, was pleased to see Maine’s efforts recognized nationally. Cort responded, “Here in Maine we aren’t letting party politics stand in the way of doing what’s right for our kids. We know at least 28% of learning disabilities are caused in whole or part by environmental exposures to toxic chemicals. It’s just common sense that we work together to prevent these devastating disabilities and the high health and education costs that result.”

Two national health-based coalitions, SAFER States and Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, released the report titled “Healthy States: Protecting Families from Toxic Chemicals While Congress Lags Behind”. It offers an analysis of the actions taken by state legislators and governors from both parties in response to three key trends: the growing scientific evidence of harm; the strong public outcry from parents, physicians, and public health officials; and the failure of Congress to overhaul policies at the federal level.

Michael Belliveau, Executive Director of Maine’s Environmental Health Strategy Center and one of the authors of the new report, stated, “Let’s face it, we all want to protect kids’ health, and we all want to get health costs under control. This isn’t an issue that only Democrats or only Republicans care about. Here in Maine we’ve taken some important steps and other states are following suit. We all pay the price for toxic chemicals in our everyday products, but by working together we are creating a healthy and prosperous future for Maine families and businesses.”

The report shows that Maine ranked 2nd among 18 states in the number of chemical safety laws passed – nine, in the last eight years. It highlights Maine as one of only four states that passed state laws that broadly regulate chemicals in consumer products, and that Maine Governor John Baldacci has signed more chemical safety bills into law (nine) than any of the 22 governors who did so, with the exception of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (eleven).

This first-ever analysis of votes on state laws aimed at protecting the public from toxic chemicals found that 18 states have passed 71 chemical safety laws in the last eight years by an overwhelming margin with broad bipartisan support. Of more than 9,000 votes cast by state legislators, 73% of Republicans and 99% of Democrats favored stronger protection of children’s health and the environment from dangerous chemicals, with equal support from governors of each party. The report found that the pace of state policymaking on chemicals has more than tripled in eight years.

Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Law was passed in 2008 by a margin of 129-9 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate. It has been used as a model for action in many other states and in Washington, DC. The Kid-Safe Products Act is a regulatory success story, offering a common sense approach to getting the worst-of-the-worst unnecessary toxic chemicals phased out and replaced with safer alternatives.

The groundswell of public support for phasing out dangerous chemicals has included many business voices from across Maine. Fred Horch, owner of F.W. Horch Company in Brunswick, urged policymakers to consider small business interests. Horch stated, “No business wants to sell products that could put the health of their customers, especially children, at risk. Unfortunately, it’s often very hard to know which products are safe and which ones are not. That’s why Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act is so important for businesses and why we are so grateful to Maine lawmakers for working together to help fix this broken system.”

A growing body of new scientific research links toxic chemical exposures in early life to some of the most serious public health threats of our time, such as increased risks of breast and prostate cancer, infertility, and learning and developmental disabilities. A recent poll conducted by The Mellman Group found that 78% of Americans are seriously concerned about the threat to children’s health from toxic chemicals in day-to-day life.

The full report can be found at http://www.saferchemicals.org/PDF/reports/HealthyStates.pdf.