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Maine People Call for Passage of Two Bills to Protect Firefighters and Families

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Environmental Health Strategy Center and Prevent Harm
05.25.2017
Category:
News Releases

AUGUSTA, Maine, May 24, 2017—Demanding protection for their loved ones, colleagues, customers, and themselves, a determined group of firefighters, business owners, and parents and other family members are flooding the halls of the Maine State House today, personally urging senators and representatives to vote yes on two bills that would protect Maine firefighters and families.

 Today, the Maine House of Representatives will take up LD 182, a bill that would protect Maine firefighters and children by phasing out toxic chemical flame retardants in upholstered furniture sold in Maine. 

Flame retardants contain cancer-causing byproducts and can increase the risk of birth defects and learning disabilities in children. Among firefighters nationwide, cancer is the leading cause of line-of-duty death. 

"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. "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.” 

A second bill the group rallied for, LD 1263, would help Maine address what has become a safe-drinking-water public health crisis by expanding the number of homeowners who can access financial assistance to purchase well-water treatment systems. The Maine Senate passed LD 1263 yesterday, which the House will take up today. 

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 their 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. 

“Our message for Maine legislators is that passing these bills can protect and change lives,” said Emma Halas-O’Connor, on behalf of the Maine-based public health organizations, Environmental Health Strategy Center and Prevent Harm. “Legislators are hearing from Maine people who have lost loved ones, who have experienced illness, who have learned their children may be in harm’s way—all linked to toxic chemicals that firefighters and families will begin to be protected from if these bills become law.”

Both LD 182 and LD 1263 passed out of their respective committees with strong bipartisan support, and now face passage or defeat at the hands of the full Legislature. 

In April, legislators serving on the Environment and Natural Resources Committee heard from firefighters and fire safety experts who echoed safety experts across the country in testifying that toxic chemical flame retardants are not needed to slow down fires. Flame retardants also make fires more dangerous by producing more soot and carbon monoxide. 

Yet, chemical industry lobbyists at the State House are defending the use of flame retardants. In the past, the chemical industry has manipulated scientific findings to overstate the effectiveness of toxic chemical flame retardants and downplay the health risks.

Safe drinking water should be accessible to all Maine families. But the costs of installing and maintaining systems to treat arsenic-contaminated drinking-water can exceed a family’s ability to pay and pose an impossible burden for the families of the 20 percent of Maine children living in poverty. 

The State of Maine enforces the federal health standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act for public water systems, but residents with household wells get no such protection. 

"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). 

In testimony in April to the Joint Standing Committee on Labor, Commerce, Research and Economic Development, Joanie Hill told committee members that when her family moved a few years ago to Searsport to live in the farmhouse where she grew up, Hill soon felt constantly ill and saw her farm animals die mysteriously. A doctor advised her to test her well water for arsenic, and she described the results this way:

"We have arsenic levels over 30 times the safety threshold, and right now there is no funding available for water treatment for my family. I wonder if we will ever have a working farm, for my boys to live on. Is arsenic killing my dreams?"

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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.