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Governor LePage Vetoes Important Bills That Would Protect Maine Firefighters and Families from Harmful Chemicals

Prevent Harm and Environmental Health Strategy Center
08.01.2017

Legislature Will Convene Tomorrow for Potential Override 

LD 182 would phase out toxic flame retardants in household furniture.
LD 1263 would help low-income families treat well water for arsenic.

AUGUSTA, Maine, August 1, 2017—Two common-sense laws that would help protect Maine people from toxic chemicals, LD 182 and LD 1263, were vetoed today by Governor LePage. The Maine Legislature will convene to vote on and potentially override these vetoes tomorrow morning.

Firefighters, families, and health advocates are calling on legislators to override these harmful vetoes.

“Democrat and Republican lawmakers alike agreed that Maine needs these bills, because these toxic chemicals are harming Maine people,” said Emily Postman of Prevent Harm. 

“It’s outrageous that the Governor is attempting to undo months of strong bipartisan lawmaking in order to leave many Maine people unprotected from these harmful chemicals,” Postman continued. “We’re counting on legislators to stand behind their votes, override these vetoes, and stand up for Maine families and firefighters.”

LD 182, which would phase out toxic flame retardants in furniture in Maine and help protect firefighters from cancer and children from neurological harm, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support: 139-5 in the House, and 34-1 in the Senate.

“Vetoing LD 182 is just plain wrong, and the veto needs to be overridden,” said Ronnie Green, 4th District Vice President of the Professional Firefighters of Maine. “Our public officials need to stand up for the firefighters who put their lives on the line to protect the public every day.”

Toxic flame retardant chemicals used in furniture and upholstery are linked to cancer. The leading cause of line of duty death for firefighters is not acute injuries from battling fires, but cancer. When these chemicals burn, they produce carcinogenic gases called dioxins and furans which firefighters are exposed to on the job. And safety experts say flame retardants are not necessary to prevent fires.

"We accept that our job has unavoidable risks,” said Stephen Simonson, a firefighter with the South Portland Fire Department who spoke on behalf of the Professional Fire Fighters of Maine, when the bill was introduced back in May. "Flame retardants are unnecessarily increasing our risk of cancer, without having a life safety benefit. Smoke detectors and sprinklers save lives, not toxic chemical flame retardants.”

In addition to the risk they pose to men and women in the fire service, flame retardants escape from furniture into household air and dust, and are harmful to children’s health, increasing the risk of birth defects and learning disabilities.

Maine families were also betrayed by the Governor’s veto of LD 1263, which would allocate $500,000 to help low-income families afford the expensive treatment required to protect them from arsenic in well water.

"For our rural communities that rely on wells for drinking and cooking, it’s so important to make sure kids and families can afford safe drinking water,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator Joyce Maker (R-Washington).

An estimated one of every eight wells in Maine is contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic—in a state where half the population drinks and cooks with well water. That puts the 100,000 rural Mainers drinking from arsenic-contaminated wells at risk of arsenic-related bladder, liver, and skin cancer. In children, arsenic harms developing brains. A 2014 study of Kennebec County schoolchildren concluded that arsenic in well water could contribute to a lowering of IQ scores by an average 5–6 points.

In June, the Legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of a separate water-related bill, also supported by Prevent Harm, that expanded education about arsenic-contaminated well water. That was an important first step in tackling the state’s epidemic of arsenic in well water, but without LD 1263, many families will not be able to afford treatment once they discover that their well water is contaminated.

“A lot of people are just struggling to put food on the table, and they can’t afford to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a filtration system, ” said Wendy Brennan, a mom of two daughters from Mt. Vernon. “But that doesn’t mean they should be drinking poison-laden water. Every family in Maine, no matter where they live or how much money they make, deserves access to safe water.” 

Health advocates, families, and firefighters thank legislators for their bipartisan support for these important bills, and remind them that Maine people are counting on them to stand by their votes.

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Environmental Health Strategy Center is a public health organization based in Maine and ​working for healthy people thriving in a healthy economy. We educate and organize people and partners to advocate for two intertwined solutions: reducing humans' exposure to toxic chemicals in food, drinking water, and products, and sustainably manufacturing products that are safe for people and the planet. Together, these solutions can reduce disease and disability linked to toxic chemicals—cancer, infertility, learning disabilities, birth defects, autism, allergies, and asthma—and create a healthy economy based on good-paying jobs and careers created by manufacturing safer, sustainable products. Prevent Harm is our action partner.