Maine Lawmakers Criticize Foot Dragging on Formaldehyde Rule
AUGUSTA, Maine - Lawmakers in both parties are renewing their criticism of the LePage administration's refusal to identify formaldehyde as a harmful chemical under the Kids Safe Products Act. A proposed rule, dropped by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in April, would require manufacturers to identify the chemical in any products marketed to children. The department says it delayed action to give the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency more time to complete a review of the risks proposed by formaldehyde.
But at a hearing this morning, lawmakers said recent findings by federal scientists give the administration all the proof it needs to move forward. Those findings, by researchers at the National Academy of Sciences, reconfirmed earlier federal assessments that formaldehyde causes cancer and is harmful to humans. Rep. Tom Saviello, a Wilton Republican, sits on the Legislature's Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
"I want to express my disappointment in the department's removing formaldehyde," Saviello said."I feel that there was more than enough information to proceed, especially in light of what Minnesota just did with formaldehyde."
Minnesota's new law, banning children's products containing formaldehyde, took effect Aug. 1. Saviello, who fought in the Legislature to get formaldehyde listed in Maine, told a Maine DEP official that the department had no good excuse not to move forward.
"The report is out. I don't know why you have to wait for EPA to make a statement," he said. "It would be interesting to review that and see whether you want to reconsider that decision and move forward."
"Just to make sure it's clear: We did not take any action to remove formaldehyde from the chemicals of high concern list," said Heather Parent, acting deputy commissioner at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Parent says the department simply delayed listing formaldehyde, but may still do so.
She says the U.S. EPA first has to add the new National Academy of Sciences data to the other assessments it's done, before issuing a final analysis on the threats the chemical poses to humans. "It would be our hope that it would be sooner rather than later - you know, it would be in the next several months."
But lawmakers were unsatisfied with this explanation and timeline and expressed skepticism about the department's credibility on the issue. For a decade, the chemical industry has spent millions of dollars at the state and national level lobbying against laws and rulemaking that ban or curtail the use of certain, cancer-causing chemicals like formaldehyde.
After the department drafted its initial rule, listing formaldehyde, Parent says questions came up during the mandatory public comment period "associated with the carcinogenicity of the chemical, related to inhalation, which is the criteria we need to follow."
But now, the new National Academy of Sciences research has confirmed that formaldehyde is, indeed, linked to cancers of the mouth, nasal passages and upper throat. Rep. Janice Cooper is a Yarmouth Democrat. "The questions that you're concerned about - were they answered in the NAS report?" she asked.
"The NAS did answer those questions on behalf of the NAS," the DEP's Heather Parent said. But Parent says the administration needs an official EPA statement on formaldehyde's risks before it can move ahead and list the chemical.
Product safety advocates question when, and if, such a declaration will come. They say all that lobbying by the chemical industry has caused the agency to delay putting out a risk assessment on formaldehyde for more than 10 years.