Maine is among just a handful of states that require manufacturers to report the use of certain chemicals in their products. It also has the earliest deadine for companies to report. This week the results are in, and more than 650 products are on the list. Business representatives and state regulators say the reported presence of the chemicals does not indicate there's a risk present. But health advocates say the list will help consumers protect their health from chemicals that leach out of products.
"This is the first time anywhere in the country, and possibly in the world, that manufacturers have shared this information," says Steve Taylor, of the Maine-based advocacy group Environmental Health Strategy Center, which has taken the list compiled by the state and made it easily acessible to the public through the Internet.
Products on the list contain one of two chemicals deemed by the state to be of "high concern" because of links to developmental and reproductive problems: "Bisphenol A, or nonylphenol ethoxylates, known as BPA's and NPE's," Taylor says.
Maine's 2008 Kid Safe Products Act required that manfacturers disclose the use of BPA and NPE's. Twenty-five makers of top-selling toys, infant formulas, baby food, paints, cleaners complied by the October deadline.
"NPE's are used in more than 291 household paints made by major manufacturers such as Sherwin Williams, Benjamin Moore and Baer," Taylor says. "At least 280 toys mostly Playmobile figurines still contain BPA."
The Environmental Health Strategy Center is trying to widely disseminate the information by posting it to its website and sharing it with a nationally-known site, HealthyStuff.org.
But others say health advocates are scaring people unnecessarily. "This type of thing just creates a sense of unnecessary concern, in my opinion, and creates fear or an anxiety that I don't think is warranted," says Dana Connors, president of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. In his view, the reporting shows a limited presence of BPA in children's products.
The Toy Industry Association adds, in a statement, that its BPA use is particularly safe in toys as opposed to, say, food containers, because they "do not regularly undergo the extreme wear and tear caused by high temperatures in a dishwasher or microwave."
Samantha DePoy-Warren of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection is not overly concerned either. She says that more companies are responding to consumer demand and getting rid of chemicals such as BPA from their products.
"Obviously, hundreds of products sounds like a lot, but when you have thousands and thousands of products on the marketplace, to have just a few of them with the presence of these potentially toxic ingredients, it really shows the process is working, and that manufacturers are responding to consumer demand and utilizing safer alternatives in their products," DePoy-Warren says.
In fact, she expects universal compliance with a new ban on BPA use in reusable food and beverage containers, such as sippy cups, taking effect on January 1st. But DePoy-Warren adds that the DEP is committed to making sure that companies are complying with the chemical reporting law.
"So in some cases where we know of companies that should have reported and didn't, we will be moving forward with enforcement and working to bring them into compliance and making sure that they're reporting," she says.
Both the department and the Health Strategy Center agree that keeping up with manufacturers' chemical use is too much work for one state. So Steve Taylor of the Environmental Health Strategy Center says the federal government needs to require chemical manufacturers to demonstrate the safety of their products. "Congress should pass the Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 to fix the broken federal chemical safety system," he says.
Taylor calls on Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to co-sponsor the legislation. In the meantime, Julie Wagner of Portland, a mom of two, is sticking to what she knows is safe.
"For me, it was just easiest to just go back to traditional toys -- wood, silk scarves, the type of things that bring out imagination," Wagner says. "That was the simplest way to not worry about it."
The DEP says that Maine has until next year to decide what, if any, other chemicals are of high concern, after which the commissioner can decide whether more reporting by companies is mandated.