Shoppers Warned that Hormone-Havoc Chemicals Lurk in Products

Article and photo by Ramona du Houx

December 14, 2011

“It is overwhelming to think of all of the unsafe chemicals in common products. I feel like I need to behave as an amateur scientist and product detective to protect my kids,” said Julie Wagner, a Portland based mother of two and local leader for the Holistic Moms Network.

A report released today identifies for the first time more than 650 brand name products that contain two hormone-disrupting toxic chemicals. Based on new industry data reported to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, the report names plastic toys, such as PLAYMOBIL play figures and Chicco baby rattles, which contain BPA (or bisphenol A), the same toxic chemical already banned in plastic baby bottles and sippy cups. The report revealed another toxic ingredient, known as NPEs, in nearly 300 household paints, as well as several cleaners, wood finishes and home maintenance products.

The report, Poison in Paint, Toxics in Toys, summarizes the first chemical use reports submitted by product manufacturers under Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act.

“In the absence of federal leadership, Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act is the best way to identify and restrict toxic chemicals in products,” said Mike Belliveau, lead report author and executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center based in Portland, Maine. “Until Congress acts, we can expect more states and businesses to respond to consumer demand for toxic-free products.”

State laws similar to Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act go into effect in Washington and California next year and are pending in other states, as Congress lags behind in reforming the outdated federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

“As a new mom, I’m relieved to finally get some information I can use as a consumer to protect the health of my baby,” said Hannah Pingree, the former Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives who sponsored the 2008 Maine law. “But why are these chemicals still used in everyday products, and what else are they keeping us in the dark about?” she asked. “Congress has to fix our broken federal chemical safety system. Passing the Safe Chemicals Act is the only way to protect the health of all American families.”

Armed with this new chemical use information, government can make better decisions to restrict toxic chemicals and industry leaders can switch to safer substitutes, just like the infant formula makers who recently ended their use of BPA in metal cans. Twenty-five manufacturers reported on priority chemical use in consumer products to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. For a full searchable listing of every brand name product reported to contain BPA or NPEs, visit http://www.HealthyStuff.org.

Studies have shown that BPA and NPEs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) mimic the sex hormone estrogen. BPA harms brain development, behavior and the prostate gland, among many other adverse health effects. NPEs are highly toxic to aquatic life, degrade into a long-lived chemical that builds up in the food chain, and may harm reproduction and development in humans. Aggregate exposure to BPA and NPEs from all sources threatens the health of children, workers and the environment.

More and more states are enacting laws to protect the health of American families from toxic chemicals in response to the failure of the obsolete federal chemical safety system to protect public health and the environment. In the last decade, 18 states have passed more than 70 laws to ban chemicals in products or create new chemical management programs at the state level.

“The public release of this chemical use data in an important first step to decreasing exposure to these chemicals but it is not enough,” said Dr. Jonathan Fanburg, a pediatrician in Falmouth and spokesman for the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We need to see full enforcement of the Kid Safe Products Act by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Not all companies are reporting despite this legislative mandate. Furthermore, we need to have our US senators co-sponsor the Safe Chemicals Act.”

Under Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act, manufacturers must disclose their use of priority chemicals of high concern in consumer products. The state may then require companies to search for safer substitutes. Priority chemicals in products may be phased out if children are exposed and safer alternatives are available, effective and affordable.

S. 847, The Safe Chemicals Act of 2011, sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-New Jersey), proposes a common sense, science-based overhaul of the 35 year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), which has never been updated. The Safe Chemicals Act requires chemical manufacturers to provide health information and demonstrate the safety of all chemicals, while requiring immediate action to restrict uses of the worst chemicals based on the best science.

“It is overwhelming to think of all of the unsafe chemicals in common products. I feel like I need to behave as an amateur scientist and product detective to protect my kids, a Portland based mother of two and local leader for the Holistic Moms Network. “I was recently encouraged to hear Senator Snowe and Senator Collins publicly agree that our federal chemical safety system is broken. I hope that they will act now to help pass the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011,” said Julie Wagner.