AUGUSTA, Maine — 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 Thursday of suggesting the chemical be banned from baby and toddler food containers, a move environmental activists have been advocating.
DEP officials 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.
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, 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.
Two Board of Environmental Protection members, Wing Goodale and Elizabeth Ehrenfeld, questioned the DEP’s conclusions on exposure to BPA from baby food containers.
Goodale noted 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 saying to me that 99 of the products showed detection of BPA in the food,” he said.
“That’s one study,” said Kerri Malinowski, who directs the DEP’s safer chemicals program. “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.”
Tom Eastler, a board member from Farmington, said the exposure levels found in the study fall short of the required exposure levels defined in state rules for determining whether to ban a particular children’s product.
“Even though there’s BPA detected,” he said, “they don’t exceed the de minimis level.”
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.
But Goodale said little research is needed to determine alternatives are readily available.
“Anybody who’s been in the supermarket sees the alternatives available everywhere they turn,” he said.
“The department is not here saying there are not alternatives that are in the marketplace,” said Heather Parent, the DEP’s policy director. “But we have reviewed the record, and our review has revealed to us that the extent to which alternatives are available in the marketplace is not as great as one would hope.”
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.
The department supported extending the BPA ban to infant formula packaging after concluding that children can be exposed to BPA through formula packaged in metal containers lined with epoxy, and that consumers can easily buy BPA-free alternatives since most infant formula manufacturers have stopped using the chemical.
“Of the infant formula manufacturers that have submitted reports to the Department, those representing nearly 97 percent of the national infant formula market modified their manufacturing process to eliminate the use of BPA packaging in 2011,” the department’s memo reads. “Manufacturers in this sector affirmatively responded to consumer demand, resulting in a product that, as marketed today, has nearly eliminated BPA in its packaging.”
Gov. Paul LePage has opposed Maine’s partial ban on BPA and drew criticism early in his tenure in office for saying BPA’s worst effect is that “ some women may have little beards.” While he was publicly opposed, LePage later in 2011 allowed a measure banning BPA to become law without his signature.
Michael Belliveau, executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said he was surprised by the DEP’s opposition to a BPA ban for baby food containers.
“The recommendation flies in the face of the facts. Fortunately, the board pushed back,” he said. “It’s outrageous the administration would oppose getting BPA out of baby food.”
Of the infant formula BPA ban, Belliveau said: “What they agreed to was the easiest possible thing.”
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 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.