February 6, 2011

MAINE COMPASS: Repeal of Kid-Safe Products Act a dangerous step backward

As a young woman, I am very concerned about the fact that toxic chemicals in everyday products have the potential to affect my health, and the health of my future children.

In Maine, toxic chemicals cost the state more than $380 million in health care every year, according to a recent study by the University of Maine, and contribute to rising rates of conditions such as cancer, asthma, learning disabilities and infertility. Although we may all be affected, however, it is children, with their small bodies and developing organ systems, who are most vulnerable.

In 2008, the Maine Legislature passed the Kid-Safe Products Act, a common-sense law that helps parents to keep their children safe from toxic chemicals. It aims to identify, eliminate and find safe alternatives for the most dangerous chemicals in everyday products that children are exposed to, such as baby bottles and sippy cups.

When it passed, the law received overwhelming bipartisan and public support, and Maine was praised as a leader in protecting the public, and children especially, from toxic chemicals.

Gov. Paul LePage recently proposed a massive rollback of environmental and public health legislation in Maine, including a repeal of the Kid-Safe Products Act.

LePage claimed that it would be better to revert to federal standards to protect consumers from hazardous substances. The current federal legislation, called the Toxic Substances Reform Act, however, is so weak that it requires testing for only a tiny percentage of the 82,000 chemicals currently registered for use in the United States. Many of those chemicals are banned in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

Reverting to federal legislation would be a major step backward for the state, and could put Maine’s children in harm’s way.

The Kid-Safe Products Act does not put an onerous burden on business, and even empowers Maine businesses by helping them to know what is in the products they sell.

When it was passed in 2008, not a single Maine business testified in opposition, and more than 100 businesses supported its “swift and thorough” implementation.

Now that the law has been threatened, Maine’s Small Business Coalition, with 2,500 members, is speaking out in favor of keeping it.

Furthermore, University of Maine economist Mary Davis has calculated that keeping the Kid-Safe Products Act could save the state an average of $1,350 per child every year in reduced health-care and economic costs. In addition, its implementation poses no additional costs to the state or taxpayers.

So if the Kid-Safe Products Act is good for Maine’s people, businesses and economy, why would LePage want to repeal it? Primary critics of the act are chemical companies in Washington, D.C. and New York. This means that in proposing a repeal, LePage has put the profits of the out-of-state chemical industry over the health of Maine’s own people, and especially our children.

We don’t need to let this happen.

On Feb. 14, the Maine Regulatory Fairness and Reform Committee will hold a hearing in Augusta to discuss the proposed repeal. Before then, it’s important that Maine residents contact our legislators and tell them that we oppose the repeal, because we care about protecting Maine’s children, businesses and economy.

We need to keep the Kid-Safe Products Act — and keep Maine a safe place to be a kid.

Blair Braverman is a senior at Colby College, where she is studying environmental policy, with a particular focus on health and justice. She is an intern with the Environmental Health Strategy Center and has testified several times before the Maine Department of Environmental Protection on matters relating to environmental health legislation.

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