Smart discussion about toxics policy reform

Protecting Maine’s Children from Toxics: Get It Right

In 2008, the state of Maine took a big step toward protecting its children from exposures to potentially dangerous chemicals when its legislators passed the pioneering Toxic Chemicals in Children’s Products Act. Now officials of the Pine Tree State are writing regulations to implement that law, and this is when things can get tricky. Just how those rules come out will make a big difference in how effective the law turns out to be.

That’s why the Environmental Working Group, which enthusiastically supported the bill in 2008, is getting involved again. On Monday (Jan. 11), EWG wrote to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to applaud Maine’s leadership on the issue and to urge state officials to frame the regulations in ways that will fulfill the act’s promise. You can read the full letter here.

EWG thinks the Maine DEP is taking exactly the right approach in writing a broad definition of “children’s products” to include “any chemical of high concern” that “will likely result in a child or a fetus being exposed to that chemical.” Our letter noted that biomonitoring studies led by EWG have found 100’s of industrial chemicals, pollutants and pesticides in umbilical cord blood from American babies and that some toxic chemicals have been found at higher levels in toddlers than in their mothers. That’s because little kids tend to put their hands and objects in their mouths.

We also urged the Maine DEP to publish on its website a list of its priority chemicals – the ones that raise the greatest concerns – and the products that contain them. The law as passed has a loophole that limits the ability of state officials to restrict the use of hazardous chemicals unless it can identify a safe and cost-effective alternative. That provision gives companies an incentive to defend their existing and potentially dangerous products rather than developing safer alternatives.

Among other things, EWG also urged Maine regulators to make the rules apply to anyone up to age 18, to protect teens against chemicals that may disrupt or alter puberty.  As well, EWG proposed  a petition process so that citizens can request the listing of new priority chemicals or suggest safer alternatives. EWG also thinks Maine should take steps to curb companies to keep information about their products away from the public under the secrecy cloak of “confidential business information.”

Of course, it’s crucial for the Congress to follow Maine’s lead and pass a national KidSafe bill to reform chemical regulation and protect all American children from toxic chemicals. As the letter said:

“A federal bill would tackle the problem of children’s exposures more comprehensively and produce new information about the safety of the thousands of untested chemicals used in consumer products.”

EWG’s letter was signed by President Ken Cook, Senior V-P for Research Jane Houlihan and Senior Analyst Sonya Lunder.


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