AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection recommends the state extend its ban on the chemical bisphenol A to packaging used for infant formula, but stopped short of suggesting the chemical be banned from baby and toddler food containers, a move environmental activists have been advocating.
DEP officials on Thursday presented their recommendations to the state’s seven-member Board of Environmental Protection as it considers a citizen petition to expand the state’s ban on bisphenol A — commonly known as BPA — to infant formula packaging and baby and toddler food containers.
Maine already bans BPA from certain children’s products, including baby bottles and sippy cups, as a result of the 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act that designated BPA a “priority chemical.” Under the law, the board has to determine that children are exposed to BPA through certain food packaging, and that BPA-free alternatives are available at comparable cost in order to recommend extending the ban.
In a 19-page memo to the Board of Environmental Protection, DEP officials wrote that the scientific evidence is limited on whether the most common baby food containers — glass jars with metal lids that contain BPA — cause children to be exposed to the chemical. The memo cites one study that found some level of BPA exposure from 99 glass jars with BPA-containing metal lids out of 122 tested.
“That’s one study,” Kerri Malinowski, who directs the DEP’s safer chemicals program, told board members Thursday. “It’s difficult to find any other study that looks at this particular food packaging and looks at the food itself. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of studies we can point to at this point that look at the food contents of a metal can.”
The DEP also said it didn’t have a complete analysis concluding that affordable, BPA-free packaging alternatives were widely available to consumers. The DEP last month presented an analysis that examined the availability of alternatives to packaging with BPA, but Malinowski said the analysis lacked a complete examination of the cost of BPA-free packaging alternatives.
Malinowski said the DEP recommended against a BPA ban from toddler food containers because of the difficulty in defining toddler food.
The environmental groups that spearheaded the petition effort to extend the BPA ban recommended the state define toddler food products as those that are “intentionally marketed” to children younger than 3, noting that toddler food often can be marked by “marketing materials that prominently display animated characters from television shows or films that include preschool children among their target audience.”
But DEP officials said that definition is too expansive to regulate effectively, and that it would be difficult for any definition of toddler food to avoid encompassing food products aimed at other age groups.
“Policy based on marketing scheme would lend itself to confusion for both the regulated community and the regulators,” Malinowski said.
BPA is a plastic additive found in hundreds of products ranging from water bottles to CDs to receipt paper, and it’s an endocrine disruptor that some studies have linked to cancer, learning disabilities, infertility and other health problems. The chemical is found commonly in infant formula cans, baby bottles and baby food jar lids, and is used to prevent corrosion of metal packaging and protect food from contamination.
The Board of Environmental Protection is expected to make a recommendation on extending the BPA ban by the end of January. Lawmakers will have the final say on the matter, and an expanded ban would take effect in September at the earliest.