It’s been just over two months since we heard Governor Paul Lepage make the now-infamous statement about a chemical called bisphenol-A, or BPA:
“The only thing that I’ve heard is if you take a plastic bottle and put it in the microwave and you heat it up, it gives off a chemical similar to estrogen. So the worst case is some women may have little beards.”
The Governor’s rejection of BPA as a credibly dangerous chemical came in response to LD 412, a rule put forth by Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to ban BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups, and reusable containers.
Now, LD 412 appears to have quite easily sailed through the legislature and become law. How did this happen?
The Governor made national headlines with his “little beard” remark back in mid-February; it was a strange thing to say in public. Yes, BPA is an endocrine disruptor which does mimic the hormone estrogen. A long time ago, doctors used to use BPA as a estrogen-mimicker to treat women with menopause, until they found a better alternative.
But the health effects of exposure to BPA have nothing to do with little beards and more to do with serious links to reproductive health damage and breast and prostate cancer. And unfortunately, we don’t just get exposed to BPA when we put a plastic bottle in the microwave. There is BPA in a huge variety of products, including toys, containers, food packaging – even in pizza boxes!
Even more unusual than LePage’s remark, perhaps, is the sequence of events that followed:
- By mid-March, the Governor’s office had publically withdrawn its opposition to the BPA ban.
- At the hearing for LD 412 before the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, several dozen people came to testify in favor of the BPA ban. While the governor’s office and then-DEP Commissioner Darrel Brown along with a handful of trade association representatives testified neither for nor against the ban, not a single person or group expressed opposition to it.
- A few days later, the Environment and Natural Resources Committee unanimously approved LD 412.
- The Senate followed with a unanimous vote. Then all but 3 members of the House of Representatives voted in support of the bill.
- Governor LePage neither vetoed nor signed the BPA ban into law. A Governor has 10 days to sign or veto a bill before it automatically becomes law.
And so here we are! LD 412, a rule put forth by the Department of Environmental Protection to ban BPA in certain products, has become law. As of January 1, 2012, it will be illegal to sell baby bottles, sippy cups, and other reusable containers like water bottles that contain BPA.
So how did this all go so smoothly?
1) The Kid Safe Products Act of 2008. This law enacted in Maine three years ago says that the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) must review the chemicals in everyday products and put forth “priority chemicals” – substances that pose a proven risk to children. BPA was the first chemical to be designated as a “priority chemical” to phase out under the previous administration.
2) This BPA ban isn’t really such a strong law. Several trade associations including the toy manufacturers and grocers managed to get some major exemptions from the BPA ban. Remember, this law is supposed to protect children from exposure to BPA. But the law only bans BPA from sippy cups, baby bottles, and reusable containers. So what about toys? Food packaging? The lining of your Spaghetti-os can? Baby formula packaging? None of that is covered.
I’ll talk more about the Kid Safe Products Act in my next blog post. But for now, I’ll say that for those of us concerned about the toxic chemicals found everywhere in consumer products, we’ve come one small step closer to good reforms. But we still have quite a ways to go! While a BPA ban got almost unanimous support in the legislator, the Kid Safe Products Act is going to be much more heavily scrutinized.