AUGUSTA — Megan Rice and other mothers gathered at the State House Wednesday to protest a LePage administration recommendation that they say doesn’t go far enough to protect young children from the chemical bisphenol-A.

“It’s an ongoing frustration with the governor,” said Rice, a mother of two from China. “Every time we think we’re making progress, he takes a step back.”

The mothers, organized by the environmental group Alliance for a Clean and Healthy Maine, petitioned the state Department of Environmental Protection in June to ban use of BPA in infant, baby and toddler food packaging. BPA is a chemical that helps line and seal cans and lids, and has been used for decades to prevent the growth of dangerous bacteria.

Some studies have shown that BPA is a hormone-disrupting chemical that could be linked to diabetes, obesity and heart disease, as well as problems with brain development and reproduction. Maine already has banned the chemical from baby bottles, sippy cups and other reusable food and beverage containers.

Now, the alliance is asking the Board of Environmental Protection to extend the ban to infant, baby and toddler food packaging.

Last week, the environmental department issued a memo supporting a ban on BPA in infant formula — a ban already instituted by 97 percent of infant formula manufacturers — but recommended against banning the chemical from baby or toddler food packaging. Department spokeswoman Samantha Depoy-Warren said in an email that the department does not feel the rules would be clear enough for consumers or companies to follow.

“Like these Maine moms, we are committed to the protection of public and environmental health, but we know from our experience implementing the existing ban on reusable food and beverage containers over the past year that it is critical that any regulations that are put in place are grounded in sound science and provide precise definitions and direction so that consumers, companies and the department understand the expectations and can comply with them,” she said.

Gov. Paul LePage made headlines in 2011 when he said that the worst thing that could happen following exposure to BPA is that “some women will grow little beards.”

On Wednesday at the State House, some of the mothers wore fake beards as they marched to LePage’s office to drop off jars of baby food that contain BPA. They also produced a YouTube video on the subject, another jab at the governor because he’s released some prepared videos on various topics in recent months.

LePage said Wednesday he’s following federal Food and Drug Administration recommendations with regard to BPA. In March, the FDA expressed concern about the potential effects of BPA on infants and young children, but did not recommend that parents stop using infant formula or other foods because “a stable source of good nutrition outweighs the potential risk from BPA exposure.”

In July, at the chemical industry’s request, the federal agency banned BPA from baby bottles and sippy cups, something Maine did in 2010.

Asked about the Maine mothers’ concerns, LePage said he’s following the federal government’s lead.

“I’m just going by what the federal government, the FDA did,” he said. “If there’s scientific proof, I’m with it.”

The Board of Environmental Protection is expected to continue to discuss the expansion of the ban next week, with a final vote set for Jan. 24. Recommendations for major changes would then have to be forwarded to the Legislature for consideration.

Susan Cover — 621-5643

scover@mainetoday.com