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Protecting Our Future
AUGUSTA - The Maine Legislature on Thursday gave initial approval to a measure that would help to reduce the danger of breast milk becoming contaminated by brominated chemicals, and encourage the use of safer flame retardant alternatives available. Brominated flame retardants (BFRs) are chemicals added to everyday products to slow the spread of flames during a fire. BFRs are present in plastics for computers and televisions, as well as foam in cushions and mattresses and synthetic fibers in furniture upholstery. The Maine House and Senate are expected to take final votes by early next week.
While BFRs are shown to aid in fire containment, the chemicals have been found unsafe for infants and children. The chemicals threaten normal brain development and damage reproductive organs, the thyroid gland, and may cause cancer. Laboratory tests have also found permanent memory loss. BFRs are absorbed through the skin by contact with products. LD 1790 bans the most-widely used chemical, Deca, by Jan. 1, 2008.
"This is a common sense response to a serious public health threat," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven. "Maine children are being needlessly exposed to chemicals that may cause learning disabilities and behavioral problems."
The absorption of BFRs is a growing problem for women. BFR chemicals have been found in high levels in breast milk. The rate of BFR presence in breast milk is up to 100 times higher in American women than European women. Europe has already banned BFR use in plastics for computers and other electronics, and the state of California has banned two types of BFRs.
"We have safer alternatives to contain fires," said cosponsor Rep. Bob Duplessie, Assistant Majority Leader. "As a retired professional firefighter, I am committed to promoting safe fire prevention and containment. However, this should not come at the expense of human and environmental health and safety."
Exposure levels of BFRs are also growing among wildlife. Peregrine falcons, already an endangered species in Maine, have been found to have high levels in their eggs. Other predatory birds have similar levels.
Similar legislation is being introduced in other states, including New York and Minnesota. Federal legislation to phase out BFRs was introduced this week in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Hannah Pingree, 867-2336
Casey Johnson, Legislative Aide, 287-1430
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