“As Maine Goes, So Goes the Nation"


“As Maine goes, so goes the nation”: this 19th-century saying (originally about presidential elections—William Henry Harrison, anyone?) has been making a comeback around here, as we’ve been excited to see our state’s forward-thinking chemical safety legislation open the gate to similar progress across the country. 

We were reminded of the phrase again on Wednesday, as we celebrated the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s long-awaited decision to finally issue a warning against a class of toxic flame retardants known as organohalogens (OFRs) from certain household products. The CPSC ban followed Maine’s sweeping, unprecedented ban in August of toxic flame retardants from upholstered furniture.

In fact, Maine’s new law goes much farther than the CPSC ban. Maine’s legislation doesn’t just stop at OFRs, but bans all flame retardant chemicals once and for all. This sweeping ban effectively halts a terrible process known as “regrettable substitution.”

Regrettable substitution is when a toxic chemical that’s been banned because of its harmful health effects is replaced with another chemical that may be just as dangerous or even worse.  Coupled with the fact that U.S. policy has allowed chemical companies to market chemicals that have not necessarily been proven safe, regrettable substitution means that regulators and health advocates must effectively play an endless game of “whack-a-mole” to protect kids and families from toxic chemicals.

We’ve seen this play out with flame retardants. For too long, these toxic chemicals were allowed to build up in our homes and therefore in our bodies, with policy makers taking action to ban the worst offenders after our families had already been harmed—only to repeat the unfortunate process with the next chemical.

These chemicals provide no demonstrable benefit, while their continued production and sale means that the risk to our health continues to grow. 

Maine’s comprehensive ban should be a model for other states and the federal government. With the CSPC ban of OFRs, and a similar piece of legislation recently passed by the Rhode Island House and Senate, it seems that the nation is starting to follow in Maine’s footsteps.

Because when it comes to toxic flame retardants, as Maine goes, so should go the nation.

--Patrick MacRoy, Deputy Director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center