Mainers Call Out Governor “Little Beards” LePage for his Chemical Industry Ties, Announce Campaign to Ensure Future Leaders will Protect Children From Toxic Chemicals
August 6, 2014: Portland, MAINE – Today, Mainers gathered to announce the formation of the new public health political advocacy group Prevent Harm, and launch its “Fear the Beard” Campaign. The campaign is in protest of Governor LePage’s toxic track record, which has slowed Maine’s progress in protecting children and families from household products containing toxic chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, learning disabilities and other serious health concerns.
Participants and speakers, including Hannah Pingree, former speaker of the Maine House of Representatives and Prevent Harm co-founder and chair, announced the new grassroots campaign, which seeks to elect candidates who support stronger protections from toxic chemicals, and who will take proactive steps to phase out harmful chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA), phthalates, flame retardants and other toxins.
Protestors donned fake beards in protest of Governor LePage, referencing his notorious comment from 2011 in which he stated that the worst effects of exposure to BPA were that some women might grow “little beards.” BPA is a proven hormone-disrupting chemical linked to cancer, learning disabilities, obesity and other health problems.
“We’re calling this the “Fear the Beard” campaign because so many Maine people are still irate over Governor LePage’s ridiculous dismissal of the serious hazards to the health of Maine children,” stated Hannah Pingree. “It’s time to defeat this Governor and elect leaders to Augusta who put Maine kids ahead of the chemical industry.”
“It became clear on day one that Governor LePage would side with the chemical industry and ignore sound science,” said Bettie Kettell, a retired nurse from Durham. “For example, even though dozens of credible scientific studies show that BPA can cause breast cancer, prostate cancer, and learning disabilities, Governor LePage opposed every measure to protect pregnant women, infants, and children from this toxic chemical.”
Credible scientific research shows that toxic chemicals can lead to costly and harmful health impacts, such as cancer, reproductive problems, developmental and learning disabilities, diabetes, and obesity. These same chemicals are often found in common consumer products such as children’s toys, food packaging, household cleaners, furniture, and building materials. While people of all ages are at risk, studies shows that children are particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of toxic chemicals, due to their small size and rapid brain and body development.
“As a mother of two young girls, I’m very concerned about toxic chemicals in my home, and I’ve been very active on these issues,” said Megan Rice, mother and Prevent Harm board member from Belgrade. “I’ve spent countless hours of my own time visiting the State House, writing letters and making phone calls. But despite my best efforts, and the efforts of hundreds of others like me, Governor LePage still won’t listen, and too many legislators are following his lead.”
In the early 2000s, Maine emerged as a national leader in protecting families and children from toxic chemicals, starting with the passage of innovative measures to prevent exposure to arsenic, lead, and toxic flame-retardants. In 2008, the Maine Legislature passed the Kid-Safe Products Act (KSPA) by an overwhelming bipartisan margin. This groundbreaking state law is one of the first comprehensive state chemical policies, and aims to reduce exposure of children and pregnant women to priority chemicals of high concern by replacing them with safer alternatives in consumer products.
Just before Governor LePage took office, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) named BPA as one of its first prioritized chemicals under the law. Maine was slated to phase out BPA from baby bottles, sippy cups, and reusable containers in 2011, which prompted Governor LePage to make his now-infamous “little beards” comment.
Though the BPA phase-out passed nearly unanimously in the then-Republican controlled legislature despite the LePage Administration’s opposition, Governor LePage has consistently undermined and attempted to roll back Maine’s chemical safety protections throughout his tenure. His failed leadership has slowed greater progress from being made. Since taking office, he:
- Appointed a former lobbyist for the chemical industry as the Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (2011).
- Tried to repeal the ban on BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups (2011).
- Supported chemical industry-backed legislation that would have gutted the Kid-Safe Products Act had it passed as proposed (2011).
- Opposed a rule initiated by a citizen petition to eliminate BPA from baby food packaging; the rule became law without his signature (2012).
- Vetoed legislation to require billion-dollar food companies to disclose which canned foods contained BPA; his veto was sustained by three votes (2013).
- His Administration’s DEP dropped a proposed rule on formaldehyde reporting in children’s products, after lobbying from a chemical industry group funded by Koch Industries – a major producer of the cancer-causing chemical (2014).
“As a former legislator, I was honored to work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle who did what was right for children’s health, even in the face of fierce opposition from the powerful out-of-state chemical industry,” said Hannah Pingree. “And as the mother of two young kids, I’m passionate that this work continues. We need a new Governor and legislature who won’t deny the serious health threats from toxic chemicals, who will listen to Maine moms and dads, and who don’t place chemical industry profits above our kids’ futures. That’s why we’ve formed Prevent Harm and why we’re launching the “Fear the Beard” campaign.”
The group says they plan to spend the next months prior to the election engaging in grassroots organizing, knocking on doors throughout the state, and reminding voters about Governor LePage’s track record on toxic chemicals. Prevent Harm will also target for defeat legislators who have followed LePage’s lead in disregarding the science around chemical safety, and hold future elected leaders to their promises to protect children’s health from chemical toxins.
Governor LePage’s inaction on toxic chemicals may play a role in the upcoming gubernatorial race, especially among women voters. According to a study from 2013, two-thirds of likely Maine voters, including a majority of Republican women, are “seriously concerned” about the threat posed to children by toxic chemicals in day-to-day life.
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