A group of Maine mothers carrying signs and baby food jars marched into the Governor’s office this morning and demanded his administration retract a memo that was issued last week by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
“It feels like ‘little beards’ all over again,” stated Megan Rice, a mother of two from the town of China. “The Department’s own report proves that kids are exposed and that safer alternatives are available and affordable. But here we are, back again in the land where science gets distorted and facts are ignored. Are we angry? You bet we are!”
The moms have been working for several years to get the toxic chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) replaced with safer alternatives in products that could expose their children. Their efforts have been overwhelmingly supported by Maine legislators but have put them at odds with Governor LePage. In 2011 the Governor opposed taking BPA out of baby bottles and sippy cups and said the worst that could happen is that “some women will grow little beards”. His remarks received national attention and were met with outrage and disbelief.
A memo issued last week by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has put the moms and the Governor in conflict over BPA once again.
The DEP’s memo to the Board of Environmental Protection recommended that the Board reject a citizen-initiated proposal to remove BPA from baby and toddler food packaging – a position that appears to be in direct conflict with both the scientific evidence of exposure and the Department’s own independent analysis of available alternatives.
The Department of Environmental Protection’s memo of January 3, 2013 did recommend that the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP) ban BPA in infant formula. While the moms expressed appreciation for this acknowledgement of the problem, they also noted that it is actually a meaningless measure because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibited BPA in infant formula cans in July 2012.
“The Department’s position is irresponsible” stated Annie Colaluca, a mother of three from Waterville. “It flies in the face of the evidence and makes us think that this administration cares more about the chemical industry than about Maine kids. We want the Governor to support safe baby food.”
In June 2012, nearly 900 registered voters and the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine petitioned the Board of Environmental Protection to end the use of BPA in infant formula, baby food and canned food for toddlers in favor of safer alternatives. The proposed BPA restrictions were widely supported by Maine physicians, moms, health advocates and small businesses at a September 2012 public hearing.
Expert testimony and peer-reviewed science revealed that babies are exposed to BPA from baby food. Canadian scientists confirmed the presence of BPA in more than 81% of all baby food jars tested. BPA was also found in baby food sampled from Maine stores. The DEP’s own independent alternatives analysis found that baby food is widely available in plastic containers and laminated pouches and that many new jar lids are BPA-free.
Rice added, “How many babies need to be exposed to BPA for the administration to take this issue seriously? Luckily for the children of Maine, the Board of Environmental Protection is an independent agency. They can ignore the DEP’s recommendations and we certainly hope they will.”
The recommendations of the DEP are only advisory. The Board of Environmental Protection must make the final decision on the proposed rule. They will meet again on January 17th to discuss the baby food issue, and plan to take a final vote on a rule on January 24th. After the Board provisionally adopts a BPA rule at the end of this month, the Maine Legislature must review and authorize its final adoption later during the legislative session.
Studies show that one of the most common paths of exposure to BPA is through food. Young children are exposed to BPA when the chemical leaks from the inner lining of canned foods, including infant formula, and the metal lids of glass jars, including baby food. State and federal health agencies are concerned that BPA will harm brain development, cause behavior problems and adversely affect the prostate, among other serious health concerns. It is estimated that BPA exposure could be reduced by two thirds if food packaging were BPA-free.
“No child should be exposed to the hormone havoc of BPA at the dinner table,” added Colaluca. “The standards for BEP action have been met – BPA is extremely dangerous, our children are exposed, and safer alternatives are available. Maine moms have waited long enough – now it’s time for action.”
Maine declared BPA a “priority chemical” under the Kid-Safe Products Act in 2010, when the Board found that BPA is clearly harmful to children based on extensive scientific evidence. At that time, the BEP required that BPA in baby bottles, sippy cups, and other reusable food and beverage containers by replaced with safer alternatives. That phase out was approved almost unanimously by the Maine Legislature and went into effect on January 1, 2012.