I am a mother with three grown children and a former Republican state representative who served six years in the Legislature until 2012. This year, I joined a bipartisan group of current and former legislators who took tested ourselves for several chemicals known as phthalates.

We were among 25 Mainers who submitted a urine sample to analyze our levels of phthalates (pronounced thal-EIGHTS), which are hormone-disrupting chemicals used in soft plastics and personal care products. All 25 of us found that our bodies are polluted with several different types of phthalates, some much higher than levels found in most Americans.

When I was raising my kids, no one talked about toxic chemicals in household products. “Toxic chemicals” were something I associated with hazardous waste, not the products I bought at the store. I had no idea that by using a plastic baby bottle I could expose my child to a hormone-disrupting chemical called bisphenol-A, or that my vinyl shower curtain could be off-gassing phthalates during bath time.

Today, people know much more about hormone-disrupting chemicals that are used widely in household products. Scientific research has implicated phthalates in birth defects in baby boys, along with infertility, asthma and learning disabilities. We now understand that phthalates leach out of household products and end up inside our bodies.

But there is a lot we still don’t know. Most product manufacturers are under no obligation to report which products contain phthalates. As consumers we may have more information to worry about these days, but we don’t have the information we need to stop worrying.

Since I first started learning about toxic chemicals such as BPA and phthalates in consumer products, this issue has felt very personal. I am a breast-cancer survivor, and I have lost many friends to cancer, including several childhood friends who grew up in the same town as I did. It’s impossible to know the exact cause of my own health problems, but I would love to know what were the role of genes, diet and chemical exposures among the many factors that interplayed to trigger my breast cancer.

We have a long way to go to figure out what causes cancer, but I do know this: Maine people, including kids and pregnant women, are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals, and no one has the information they need to avoid them. We put all our children at greater risk for developing asthma or a learning disability if we don’t work to reduce our exposure.

As a former legislator, I feel strongly that our state has a responsibility to help prevent unnecessary exposures to chemicals that can cause harm. That starts by closing the information gap that keeps parents and consumers in the dark about toxic chemicals in our products.

The good news is that our state already has the policy tools it needs to take action. Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act, which I supported, was passed with bipartisan support in 2008 and strengthened with unanimous support in 2011. The law authorizes the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to prioritize the worst chemicals for action and take steps to protect Maine people from those chemicals.

A group of parents have recently submitted a petition to the DEP signed by more than 2,000 Mainers including 75 percent of all current legislators, urging action on phthalates. This citizen-initiated petition requires the DEP to initiate a rulemaking process to consider a proposal to elevate four phthalates to priority status and require manufacturers to report their use of those chemicals. The backers of this petition understand the power of information and education as a way to begin preventing unnecessary exposure.

I strongly advise that the DEP listen to these Maine parents, physicians and legislators, and adopt a rule to make information about phthalates in products publicly available. Each one of us can think of someone who has suffered from a health issue that might have been preventable. Providing public information about phthalates in products is not only the right thing to do, but also a logical first step for preventing more unnecessary and costly disease and disability in our state.

Meredith Strang Burgess is a former state representative and past president of the Maine Cancer Foundation.

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