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Maine strengthens safer chemicals law
Maine strengthens safer chemicals law
Rejects chemical industry bid to rollback children’s health protection

In a case of reason trumping rollback, a Maine legislative committee gave its unanimous approval to legislation to improve Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act, the 2008 law that protects kids from toxic chemicals in everyday products. On May 10th, the Environment and Natural Resource Committee voted 12-0 in favor of an amended version of LD 1129, sponsored by Representative Jim Hamper (R-Oxford), House Chair of the Committee. We strongly opposed the originally proposed bill, which was advanced by a chemical industry coalition with the aim of gutting Maine’s landmark 2008 state chemical policy. We now strongly support LD 1129 as amended, which should sail through the rest of the legislative process and become law within a few weeks.

We greatly appreciate the leadership of Rep. Hamper, Senator Seth Goodall (D-Sagadahoc), who sponsored another bill, LD 1185, to strengthen the law, and Senator Tom Saviello (R-Franklin), Senate Chair of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, who all insisted that differences among Maine business and health advocates could and should be worked out.

That’s exactly what the Environmental Health Strategy Center and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce did. The agreement we negotiated in LD 1129 as amended provides greater clarity and predictability to the business community and adds one major policy innovation to strengthen the law, a new requirement to develop a list of up to 70 chemicals of high concern based on the strongest evidence of toxicity and exposure.

We have to give credit to the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. They were the public face of the most concerted opposition campaign in a decade to safer chemical policy in Maine. Although we didn’t always agree with their tactics, they were effective advocates. More importantly, the Chamber proved reasoned and reasonable. They negotiated in good faith for process concessions and policy boundaries, but never took a hard line stance to undermine health protections.

In a major defeat for the chemical industry and its corporate allies, however, the amended bill rejected proposed handcuffs and impossible burdens on the state, which were intended to prevent action to restrict chemicals in consumer products. The national industry run at gutting Maine’s chemical policy was buoyed by tea party Governor Paul LePage, who included it in his regulatory rollback agenda, and the prospects for weakened policy under the first Republican-controlled legislature in more than 35 years.

Despite hitting this political high water mark, the corporate coalition failed to accomplish its mission. Joining the attack on children’s health protections were major out-of-state manufacturers of chemicals, toys, food products, consumer goods, metal cans, cosmetics and personal care products, paints and coatings, and high tech electronics. Even consumer giant Proctor & Gamble called for a roll back in Maine’s safer chemical policy.

In the end, the law was not repealed, but rather improved, reflecting strong bipartisan support for protecting children and pregnant women from dangerous chemicals in everyday products. The chemical industry takes home a larger lesson from Maine. State regulation of chemicals cannot be rolled back or stopped. Maine and other states will continue to take action to protect people’s health from chemical hazards, especially in the absence of Congressional leadership to reform federal chemical policy.

Here’s a more detailed policy scorecard on the changes sought and wrought in LD 1129:

1. Major innovation: Shorter list provides a heads up to consumers and business

· By the end of this year, the long list of 1,751 “chemicals of concern” will be cleaned up to remove chemicals that can’t be regulated under the Kid Safe Products Act, such as drugs and pesticides

· The State will select those chemicals with the strongest evidence of toxicity and exposure to a child or fetus to develop a new list of up to 70 “chemicals of high concern” by July 1, 2012

· Priority chemicals designated for future regulation must be chosen from this new intermediate list

This new priority-setting process alerts parents, physicians, product makers and others early on about the chemicals that will be under scrutiny for future action. When a priority chemical is later named under the existing law, then manufacturers may have to report which products they add the chemical to and may have to replace that chemical with safer alternatives.

2. Reasonable fine-tuning: clearer boundaries and harmonization with other states

· The amended bill limits potential regulation to consumer products used inside the home, schools or daycare facilities, or to items used outside the home by kids

· The manufacturer need only report their use of a priority chemical if they intentionally added it to their product or, if the chemical was present as a contaminant, they must report either above a concentration of 100 parts per million or not at all if they had a control program in place to minimize contamination

· If a priority chemical contained in a product component remained inaccessible to children after use and abuse, that inaccessible component would be exempt from the law

· Definitions and criteria were harmonized with those of Washington state, which has a similar Children’s Safe Product Act in place

All of these changes simply clarify the scope of the law and ensure its consistency with other state laws. They are reasoned process improvements that establish reasonable policy boundaries.

3. Rollbacks rejected: No roadblocks to state action on chemicals were added

Of the 28 proposed changes to the Kid Safe Products Act in the originally introduced LD 1129, most were aimed at shifting the burden of proof off of the industry and onto state government, and adding to the list of things the state must prove before they could take action to restrict a chemical. Taken all together, the proposed changes would have gutted the Kid Safe Products Act. All of these proposed weights and handcuffs were rejected by the LD 1129 amendment:

· The long list of “chemicals of concern” remains strictly hazard-based – no proven human exposure will be required as originally proposed

· The naming of priority chemicals remains based on likely exposure to chemicals of high concern – no proven likely harm to children will be required as originally proposed

· The authority to prohibit the sale of a product containing a priority chemical remains based on demonstrated human exposure and the availability of safer alternatives – no proven harm or comparative risk assessments and cost-benefit analyses will be required as originally proposed

· The phase-out of BPA in sippy cups and the required reporting of BPA in other products remains intact - no authority was created to revoke the state’s designation of BPA as a priority chemical, as originally proposed

Victory for common sense and children’s health

The Kid Safe Products Act not only survived its greatest assault, it came out of it stronger. Legislative and business leaders wisely focused on clarifying the intent and scope of the Kid Safe Products Act to improve the process for protecting children’s health from toxic chemicals in products. The ideology of rollbacks to protect chemical manufacturers and other multinational firms from chemical regulation were soundly rejected.

The greatest anxiety – what chemical might be targeted next? – was rationally addressed. We demonstrated that Maine people working together could craft and fine-tune public policy so that it works for all the people of the state.

After LD 1129 as amended becomes law, and the chemical industry and trade groups return to Washington DC to lick their wounds, the Kid Safe Products Act will face its true test. Will the LePage Administration implement the law as intended by the Legislature? Will we prevent developing babies in the womb and young children from being exposed to dangerous chemicals that are still used unnecessarily in everyday products?

Maine people will answer those questions in due time. Working together, I’m confident of our continued success in ensuring safer products for Maine families.

Posted on Wednesday, May 11, 2011 (Archive on Wednesday, June 1, 2011)
Posted by Jym St. Pierre   Contributed by Jym St. Pierre

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