AUGUSTA, Maine — When Megan Rice learned that her daughter’s plastic sippy cups contained an industrial chemical called bisphenol-A, she tossed them in the trash.

Now, five years later, Rice says she and many other moms struggle to buy food, toys and other products free of potentially dangerous chemicals.

Some research has linked bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen, to a number of health problems, though manufacturers contend it poses no health risks.

Rice, a 36-year-old mother of two from the town of China, will board a bus headed to Washington, D.C., next week to urge Congress to adopt tougher regulations for toxic chemicals in consumer goods.

“It’s overwhelming enough to be a parent,” she said. “I feel that if I buy something at the store, it should be safe.”

Hundreds of mothers from across the country plan to convene at the nation’s capital on May 22 as part of a “stroller brigade” delivering petition signatures to members of Congress demanding action on toxic chemicals.

The Maine contingent of the national effort announced their plans Tuesday at a State House press conference.

The group supports a bill by U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., that would modernize the federal Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Lautenberg’s Safe Chemicals Act of 2011 is expected to go before a Senate environmental committee later this month. The bill would place the burden on manufacturers to prove a chemical is safe before putting it on the market.

In an uncommon display of bipartisanship, state Republican and Democratic leaders joined forces to support reforming the 36-year-old federal law.

“I hope Congress will modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act in a bipartisan manner to require that the best science is used to ensure the safety of chemicals and to protect the health of vulnerable populations such as children,” Senate President Kevin Raye, a Washington County Republican, said in prepared remarks.

Maine legislators passed a joint resolution to that effect on April 4.

“Because Maine has led the way on a bipartisan safe chemicals policy, I know the toys and bottles I buy for my nephew are safer … . Now, we need to make sure that children across the country have access to the same safe products,” Rep. Emily Cain of Orono, the House Democratic leader, said in her remarks.

The two legislative leaders diverged, however, on the Safe Chemicals Act working its way through the U.S. Senate. Cain favors the bill, while Raye, who is running for Congress, does not.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has not taken a position on the legislation. She believes the existing federal law is outdated and that Americans have a right to know that the products they buy are safe, according to Kevin Kelley, her communications director.

“She is encouraged that there have been bipartisan discussions in the Senate to develop legislation that could generate broad support. Such an agreement, however, will require all stakeholders to work together to produce a bill that can pass the House and Senate,” he said in an email.

Industry groups have criticized Lautenberg’s bill as overly broad, saying it sets unjustly onerous safety requirements and could hamper innovation.

U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said in a statement that she hoped to see an improved bill that would ensure safety while remaining cost-effective for entrepreneurs. She supports reforming the antiquated federal law.

“At the same time, we must be concerned any legislative fixes don’t create new challenges through unintended consequences,” Snowe said. “Replacing the current broken system with needlessly burdensome reviews might produce inconsistent regulations throughout the United States, and may delay the availability of innovative products for the U.S. consumer.”

Jackie Farwell

I'm the health editor for the Bangor Daily News, a Bangor native, a UMaine grad, and a weekend crossword warrior. I never get sick of writing about Maine people, geeking out over health care data, and...