On July 1, 2012, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") published a list of chemicals used in household products that are linked to health dangers in its Chemicals of High Concern List. The list includes a dozen chemicals proven to be human carcinogens, including formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic, and cadmium – all of which may be found in household cleaning supplies. Others include four chemicals used in flame retardants, three used in sunscreens, and hormone disrupters like parabens and phthalates found in health and beauty products. Though Maine does not currently regulate the manufacturing or sales of all products with these chemicals, its publication highlights the state of current knowledge about them and potentially raises legal issues for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers of products containing the 49 chemicals on this list.
Maine's publication is part of a growing trend, as states are becoming more proactive in spotlighting health hazards in products sold on their store shelves. The Chemicals of High Concern List was developed by a multi-disciplinary team including the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention ("CDCP"), and the Maine DEP. Chemicals only made the list if they were established human carcinogens or endocrine disruptors or developmental toxins. They also had to be present in bodily tissues or fluids; or dust, indoor air, and drinking water in the home; or in consumer products used or present in the home. Nearly two-thirds of the chemicals listed had information suggesting their presence in the human body.
Maine's DEP and CDCP do not currently have the regulatory authority to abolish the use or sale of products with all of these chemicals. Nonetheless, the list may serve as a basis for more stringent labeling or sizing requirements on products containing the 49 chemicals. Local governments are prohibited from passing laws that impose burdens on the free flow of commerce between states, but they can impose health measures designed to protect people from unsafe products. Predictably, legislators may be considering bills that would require additional warning labels or that would limit the size of these products. Advocates from public health and consumer protection organizations are pushing for increased regulation to mandate replacement of the chemicals with safer alternatives. Opponents, however, argue that the scientific basis for making the list is lacking and challenge findings that suggest low levels of exposure have toxic health effects.
While the debate over whether regulation or legislation continues, one thing is for sure: lists like Maine's Chemicals of High Concern List serve to put everyone on high alert. These lists identify the state of current knowledge, or at least what some people think, about chemicals used in everyday household products, flagging potential litigation issues for manufacturers, distributors, and retailers alike. In many states, manufacturers, distributors, and retailers stand in the same shoes in products liability litigation. As a result, having a thorough understanding of the current scientific knowledge is important for all parties in the chain of commerce. This publication represents a key factor in weighing the cost and benefits associated with incorporating chemicals into products, preparing appropriate labels, and selling them.
To learn more about how Maine’s Chemicals of High Concern List may impact your business or potential for liability, please contact David Governo at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lonna Carter at email@example.com of the Governo Law Firm.