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April 7, 2013

Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Megan Rice, of Belgrade, is active in efforts to get the state to ban BPA from baby and toddler food packaging. The will be open public hearings on the topic this week in the Legislature.

Central Maine moms lead charge to limit BPA in baby-food containers

By Susan M. Cover
scover@mainetoday.com
State House Bureau

BELGRADE — Megan Rice remembers taking away her daughter's sippy cup when she learned that the chemical bisphenol-A was present in some of the containers.

She sought out information about chemicals in canned food and toys. She switched to organic baby food under the assumption that it was safer than other packaged foods.

"I had this false sense of security that if something's on the store shelf, it's safe," she said during a recent interview at her Belgrade home. "Finding out that organic baby food had one of the highest levels of BPA, that sealed it for me."

Rice, a 37-year-old mother of two girls under 7, is one of several central Maine mothers who have led the charge to try to get the state to limit the use of BPA further in baby and toddler food packaging. The state already has banned it from baby bottles, sippy cups and other reusable food and beverage containers.

Another local mother, Annie Colaluca, of Waterville, remembers the momentum starting at a Valentine's Day State House rally in 2011 sponsored by the Environmental Health Strategy Center and the Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine.

"We all just joined together and said we might be stay-at-home moms, but we can make a difference," said the 32-year-old mother of three children under age 6.

She said while those involved all have young children, they are thinking about future generations as well.

"We deserve to know what's in our food packaging," she said. "As parents, we want to know what's in everything."

Last summer, the mothers presented the state Department of Environmental Protection with a stack of petitions calling on the state to prohibit the sale of all baby and toddler food packaging that contains BPA, which has been linked in some studies to learning disabilities, obesity and male infertility. BPA is a chemical used in plastics and to line cans and lids to prevent bacterial contamination.

After a public hearing and several meetings, the Board of Environmental Protection is recommending that BPA be banned from baby food and infant formula packaging. The board did not recommend a ban on toddler food packaging with BPA because of concerns about identifying which foods are aimed at toddlers.

The recommendation — contained in a bill, L.D. 902 — will be presented to lawmakers Wednesday. That will be followed Thursday by another bill, L.D. 1181, that would expand labeling and reporting requirements for food manufacturers and speed the process for considering other dangerous chemicals.

The bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Seth Goodall, D-Richmond, requires the state to name two additional priority chemicals each year, starting in 2014. The state has a list of 49 "chemicals of high concern."

"When kids are healthy, they do better in school, families are more productive and health costs are lowered for all of us," Goodall said in a statement sent from his office.

Goodall's bill is expected to draw opposition from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Association of Maine and the Maine Grocers Association. Ben Gilman, a lobbyist for the chamber, said the business community negotiated with environmentalists two years ago to put in place a predictable process for dealing with the priority chemicals.

"This bill will pull the rug out from underneath the business community," he said.

Dana Hernandez, of Waterville, is another of the central Maine mothers who have pushed for the BPA protections. She said much of the interest started among members of the Mainely Moms & Dads parenting group after Gov. Paul LePage started talking about easing regulations.

In 2011, LePage's comment that the worst effect from BPA exposure could be that "some women may have little beards" sparked outrage among environmental groups. The parents group decided to take up the BPA issue.

"We get so busy in our day-to-day parenting and work lives that we forget we do have voices," said Hernandez, who was a Democratic primary candidate for Maine Senate last year. "The moms really have taken on the BPA challenge. It doesn't matter what political party or religion you are. You want what's best for kids."

Hernandez, 38, the mother of two young girls, thinks they have made a difference.

"Our children have to win out over money. They have to win out over business," she said.

Susan Cover — 621-5643
scover@mainetoday.com





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