A group of Maine mothers and activists took a bus to Washington, D.C., last week to join demonstrations urging tougher federal standards on commercial chemicals.

Maine had the largest delegation there out of 31 delegations from states, “and probably the loudest,” said Ginger Jordan-Hillier, of Monmouth. “We had the best signs, too.”

The Maine contingent of more than 24 joined the Stroller Brigade, a rally outside the U.S. Capitol last week organized by Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, a national coalition of organizations and individuals. Other locals attending the rally came from Waterville, Newport and China.

Earlier this month, the Chicago Tribune published an investigative series, “Playing With Fire,” which detailed the influential efforts of manufacturers of flame-retardant chemicals placed on household furnishings to overstate both the risk of fire and the chemicals’ effect on stopping household fires, running roughshod over the public interest. The series has been credited with setting off the Stroller Brigade movement.

Records obtained by the Tribune say one of the retardants, called Firemaster 550, was found to “lower birth weight, alter female genitalia and cause skeletal malformations such as fused ribs and vertebrae” in laboratory tests on rats.

Sitting before Congress now is the 2011 Safe Chemicals Act, sponsored by Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-New Jersey. Introduced in April, the act would overhaul the 35-year-old federal Toxic Substances Control Act and force the Environmental Protection Agency to restrict the most harmful commercial chemicals and require companies to provide health and safety information if they’re going to stay on the market.

Jordan-Hillier, a 60-year-old mother of two grown children who is semi-retired, said she left a job at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection after Gov. John Baldacci left office. There, she helped implement the state Kid-Safe Products Act signed by Baldacci in 2008, which makes manufacturers disclose toxic chemicals added to products sold in Maine and offer safe alternatives when possible.

Before she worked there, she said she was naive about protections afforded consumers against chemical use in products.

“I couldn’t have imagined there was this lack of knowledge out there,” she said.

A press release said the Maine mothers traveled all day Monday and had meetings with members of Maine’s Congressional delegation on Tuesday, in person with Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe and with staffers from the offices of Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud.

Of Snowe, Jordan-Hillier said: “We left hopeful that we will be seeing from her a higher level of activity.”

Lautenberg’s act hasn’t yet received a Republican sponsor, but Jordan-Hillier is hopeful companies and lawmakers will be able to come to the table to fix the system that monitors chemicals.

“We need to change the direction and the system so we can fix the problems and not try to mop them up after the fact,” Jordan-Hillier said. “We don’t expect it to be fixed overnight.”

Michael Shepherd — 621-5632

[email protected]

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