Senator Saviello Leads Effort to Protect Children from Cancer-Causing Chemical
JANUARY 31, 2015 — Earlier this month, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) quietly reversed direction for a second time when it re-proposed a toxic chemical rule that they had scrapped just last year, in response to aggressive lobbying from the chemical industry.
The new rule, if finally adopted, will require manufacturers to report their use of formaldehyde in children’s products. The rule also names formaldehyde as a Priority Chemical under Maine’s landmark chemical safety law, the Kid Safe Products Act. This widely used chemical has been proven to cause leukemia and cancers of the nose and throat in people, and is a major indoor air pollutant that can make people sick and increase cancer risk.
Prevent Harm applauds this unexpected concession by the LePage Administration that the health of Maine families should come before chemical industry profits and conservative politics.
Let’s recap. In May 2014, DEP dropped its first proposed formaldehyde rule after intense pressure from chemical manufacturers, including Koch Industries, a major manufacturer of the cancer-causing substance. Koch Industries is the industrial conglomerate owned by the ultra-conservative Koch brothers, David and Charles. These billionaire activists are the largest funders of right-wing election campaigns and other self-serving causes that benefit their corporate empire.
Koch Industries co-founded and funds the Formaldehyde Panel of the chemical industry lobby group, the American Chemistry Council (ACC), which testified against the Maine rule. Koch Industries and its lobby front groups have consistently downplayed the dangers of formaldehyde and protested its scientific listing as a known human carcinogen by the federal government. They’ve mounted a ten-year campaign to deny the science and avoid federal and state regulation of formaldehyde.
In scrapping it’s first draft rule, DEP ignored the outcry of public health advocates, and instead offered the lame excuse that the chemical was still under review by the National Academy of Sciences and federal government. But our national chemical safety system is so badly broken that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been assessing the risk of formaldehyde since 1997, with no end in sight!
Then in August 2014, the nation’s top scientists declared – once again – that formaldehyde causes cancer in humans. Prevent Harm wrote a letter to Governor LePage asking for swift action, but DEP still refused to require disclosure of formaldehyde in children’s products.
Enter Senator Saviello, who was furious with the Administration’s foot dragging on the formaldehyde rule. He placed the issue on the legislative oversight agenda of the Environment and Natural Resources Committee, which met soon thereafter. The Senator grilled DEP Deputy Commissioner Heather Parent, who squirmed uncomfortably when held accountable for the agency’s backtracking on formaldehyde.
Still DEP failed to repent its toxic miscue. So Senator Saviello introduced legislation last month, An Act to Designate Formaldehyde as a Priority Chemical, which will be heard by the Committee he now chairs in the new Legislature. Apparently, this was the final straw that broke the resolve of the LePage Administration to help the chemical industry keep parents in the dark.
Less than a month later, DEP re-proposed the formaldehyde rule. Since the Governor’s Office approves all rulemaking in advance, this seems a case of discretion being the better part of valor. Governor LePage can try to disregard public health advocates (after all, Prevent Harm vigorously opposed his re-election) — but we won’t be silenced.
In this case, Senator Saviello was too powerful to ignore on formaldehyde, and for that we are thankful.
Postscript – While the proposed rule will provide information that can help protect Maine children, much more needs to be done to fully protect family health from this cancer-causing chemical.
The proposed rule fails to protect pregnant women, in clear conflict with the policy goals and scope of the Kid Safe Products Act. Formaldehyde is found in many products other than those intentionally marketed to children under the age of 12 as the rule proposes. The science shows that prenatal exposure to toxic chemicals threatens healthy pregnancies.
In 2011, when the chemical industry and Governor LePage tried to gut the Kid Safe Products Act, they proposed an amendment to limit the law’s scope to only those products intended for children under age 12. Thanks again to Senator Saviello, the chemical lobby failed, and the protection of pregnant women was assured in statute.
However, what the Governor couldn’t achieve legislatively, he’s now pursuing administratively. Last year, DEP designated three new Priority Chemicals by rule and in each instance limited the scope of required reporting to products intentionally marketed to young children. (These rules on mercury, arsenic and cadmium were largely symbolic, since almost all uses have already been phased out of children’s products).
More recently, DEP slashed the scope of proposed rules to name four phthalates, which are toxic hormone disruptors, as Priority Chemicals under the Kid Safe Products Act. The original rule was advanced by a citizen petition signed by more than 2,000 registered Maine voters, including three-quarters of the Members of the 126th Maine Legislature. It would have required reporting of phthalates in personal care products and many consumer products that are used by pregnant women. The DEP-proposed revision will leave pregnant women in the dark by limited the reporting, in most cases, to only those products intentionally marketed to children under age twelve.
Here’s hoping that Senator Saviello will lead once again, and persuade his fellow legislators to protect the integrity of the Kid Safe Products Act and ensure the protection of pregnant women from toxic chemicals in everyday products.
Prevent Harm is a nonpartisan 501(c)(4) Maine-based public health advocacy organization that brings together research, policy and advocacy to promote health, safer chemicals and a sustainable economy – and holds elected officials accountable for protecting Maine’s health, safety and sustainability.