T. Gregoire, C. langelier, J. Smith: Protect our children from toxic chemicals

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We were three young women from Lewiston, each with different dreams for our future, when we graduated from Lewiston High School and St. Dom’s more than 20 years ago. What we had in common was the desire to raise our kids in Maine — the place we grew up in, the place we loved, and the place we believed would give our children a healthy start and the best opportunity to fulfill their own dreams.

We never imagined we’d come together again 20 years later because toxic chemicals were putting the health of our kids at risk.

We became social workers and educators. We’ve dedicated our lives and our work to not only advocating for our own children but also being voices for all Maine children and families.

In May 2012, we were reunited on a bus trip to Washington, D.C., to ask Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins to protect our kids from toxic chemicals. More than two dozen Maine moms took part in the trip and the three of us were grateful for the opportunity to bring the voices of Lewiston natives to Congress.

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It will take time to fix our national chemical safety system, so we have also been working together here in Maine to get toxic chemicals out of everyday household products that could expose our children to serious health risks.

Last summer, we were part of a group of moms, doctors, and other concerned Mainers who collected almost 900 signatures for a citizen-initiated petition to get the toxic, hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A, or BPA, out of baby and toddler food packaging.

BPA has been a known hormone disruptor for 70 years. It was even considered for estrogen replacement therapy in the 1930s. It is one of the highest volume chemicals produced in the world and is widely used in metal food cans, the linings of jar lids, dental sealants, adhesives, electronics, and thermal receipt paper, among other things. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 93 percent of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their bodies.

The scientific evidence of harm from BPA is overwhelming and alarming. It is linked to cancer, learning disabilities, obesity, and reproductive problems. We also know that fetuses, infants and young children are most vulnerable.

Food is a major source of children’s exposure because BPA is unstable. It easily leaches out of food packaging and into the food or drink.

There is good news. Exposure to toxic chemicals such as BPA in products is preventable. In fact, research has shown that getting BPA out of food packaging could reduce BPA levels by two-thirds.

Maine’s Board of Environmental Protection is currently considering the citizen-initiated proposal to get BPA out of baby and toddler food. In concert with the Maine Legislature, it has already required that baby bottles and sippy cups be BPA-free. And now the BEP has a chance to limit one of the leading sources of children’s exposure to BPA.

There are three conditions for BEP to act on this proposal. There must be evidence that BPA is harmful, that children are exposed in their food, and that safer alternatives are available and affordable. The evidence has overwhelmingly affirmed all three conditions.

Not surprisingly, the LePage administration has come out in opposition to this proposal, despite the evidence and its own report confirming safer alternatives. That position flies in the face of the science and common sense.

We are all angry and frustrated by this but, luckily, BEP is independent and it can ignore the administration’s recommendation.

We urge BEP to follow the science and stand up for the children of Maine. No child should face a lifelong disability because they were exposed to BPA at the dinner table.

High school feels like a long time ago, but what hasn’t changed is our commitment to raising healthy kids. That’s why we have joined forces with moms across the state, to urge Maine lawmakers to pass the citizen-initiated proposal to get BPA out of baby and toddler food — for our children and grandchildren.

Tracy Gregoire is the Health Children’s project coordinator for the Learning Disabilities Association of Maine. Cathie Langelier and Jaynelle Smith are licensed social workers/public health professionals.

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