Maine’s people are arguably the state’s greatest strength. They are a bunch who know how to put in a hard day of work and, in spite of their fierce ethic of independence, Mainers can count on one another to plow the driveway of an elderly neighbor or help a child cross the street.

Given the care shown for fellow statesmen, it seems obvious that protecting youths from dangerous chemicals would be a top priority. Children are the future of Maine and are a key to the successful economic development of the state. Elected officials should not gamble the future by decreasing regulation of harmful chemicals in consumer products, as has been proposed.

The law currently being debated is a 2008 statute referred to as Maine’s Kid-Safe Products Act.

The law is intended to identify and gradually remove the “worst of the worst” toxins in toys and other children’s products. One of the most detrimental poisons the law protects young Mainers from is Bisphenol A, more commonly known as BPA.

Diseases BPA has been proven to cause include cancer, obesity, heart disease and mental retardation. Evidence of harm caused by BPA is so clear that 60 nonpartisan medical, public health, family, faith and environmental organizations supported the bill.

The costs of not regulating BPA are high. According to research performed by University of Maine economist Dr. Mary Davis, health problems in children related directly to BPA exposure cost the state at least $380 million every year.

Yet, if the Kid-Safe Products Act and its BPA rule are allowed to function, Maine saves $1,350 per child every year in avoidable health care costs.

As we all know, saving money is especially important at the current time when the state budget is already stretched thin and important programs are in peril.

One argument opponents make against protecting children from BPA is that limiting toxins violates personal freedoms and curtails the supposedly wondrous functioning of the free market.

That contention is deeply flawed.

Freedom is not being unknowingly subjected to chemicals. Rather, freedom is having the knowledge that a beloved young relative or a child’s health is not put at risk when you buy them a toy for their birthday.

I posit that this law gives consumers better information about the products they consider and results in superior buying decisions, in turn bolstering the innovation for which the free market is famous.

In spite of the clear logic that suggests that this bill improves marketplace competition, let me be clear about the direct implications the bill will have on business.

The Kid-Safe Act only regulates chemicals that are deemed unsafe after strict scientific testing and will not be a burden on businesses that are stretched by tough economic times. In fact, under the law, waivers can be granted to firms that show removing a chemical is not economically feasible.

According to research by the Maine People’s Alliance, the law was actually supported by the business community in 2008, with more than 100 Maine businesses supporting passage of the regulations and not a single business testifying for defeat.

The law does not stretch the state budget, either. The regulations can be implemented at no additional cost to the taxpayer. Instead of raising taxes, the bill actually saves money by reducing health care costs.

Further, the law improves the utility of education funds, as toxins in water bottles are not present to slow the brains of young students.

In the long term, healthy students will become strong workers who will attract businesses, creating well-paying jobs for Mainers and ensuring that there is a work force that meets the needs of the growing economy.

The Kid-Safe Act is a critical piece of legislation that works effectively to protect Maine’s youth.

Mainers have always had an independent spirit, and ensuring the health of citizens is no exception. The federal government is failing to regulate toxins so much so that the Government Accountability Office went as far as to call the federal safety system for limiting toxins broken.

Maine cannot fail to address this important issue, and by weakening or removing the 2008 Kid-Safe Products Act, the Legislature will do just that.

Douglas Kempner is a student at Bates College. He tutors first-graders at McMahon Elementary School in Lewiston, is an active member of Bates College Democrats and currently interns with the Maine People’s Alliance.

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