Cape Elizabeth speakers seek action on common chemicals

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Health professionals and educators who work with special-needs children met last week to call for the reduction of toxic chemicals in everyday products.

The Learning Disabilities Association of Maine hosted a press conference July 14 at the Aucocisco School and Learning Center at 126 Spurwink Ave. Speakers discussed the link between toxic chemicals and neurodevelopmental disorders.

“The research is abundantly clear,” Tracy Gregoire, director of LDA-ME’s Healthy Children’s Project, said. “The only question remaining is, how long we will wait to do something about it.”

Gregoire and other speakers referenced Project TENDR’s July 1 consensus statement, which asserts that dangerous chemicals found in some food, water and consumer products can increase a child’s risk of developing brain disorders, such as autism, attention deficit disorders, and hyperactivity.

Chemicals implicated in the report include flame retardants, pesticides, lead, mercury, combustion-related air pollutants and phthalates – man-made chemicals widely used in plastics.

“Here in Maine we can take immediate action, both in the doctor’s office and at the Statehouse,” Gregoire said. “Our children and grandchildren deserve protection from these unnecessary chemicals that are taking such a heavy toll on our families, our communities, and our economic potential.”

Sandy Cort, a LDA-ME board member, said developmental disabilities harm not only children and their families, but the public as well.

“It costs a school district twice as much to provide the needed and appropriate special education services as it does regular education programming,” Cort said. “These costs then cascade into costs of support for some of these children as they become adults, as well as their future lost wages. These disabilities impact us all. We must take action now.”

Speakers called on doctors in Maine to talk to patients and parents about harmful toxins and how to limit children’s exposure. Lindy Grigel, a practitioner at Integrative Medicine in Falmouth, said doctors should be talking to parents about vinyl toys, old rugs and furniture, soaps and lotions, and whether they check their home’s air quality or test the water for lead.

“Primary care providers have a key role to play in sharing information,” Grigel said. “We already ask about poisons in the home, stairway gates, smoke detectors, and choking hazards, so this is not a stretch or a burden. It is our responsibility.”

Grigel added that “no child should be exposed to toxic chemicals and be prevented from reaching their highest potential.”

Jackie Tselikis, the school nurse at Aucocisco, said more needs to be done, and  the issue needs to be resolved by looking at the root of the problem.

“We cannot protect our families just by reading more labels,” she said. “We need large manufacturers and retailers to disclose their use of toxic chemicals in the products we bring into our homes or put on the dinner table.”

Gregoire said policy-makers also need to take action and ban companies from using harmful chemicals.

“What we really need to do, both short- and long-term, is take action through policy,” she said.

Already in place are the federal Toxic Substances Control Act and Maine’s Kid Safe Products Act, both of which protect consumers from some toxins.

Barbara Melnick, the head of Aucocisco, said she was honored the press conference was held at her school. The school was founded in 1994 and started as an after-school program before later becoming a regular school as well. Around 30 students in kindergarten through 12th grade attend, and an additional 100 participate in after-school and summer programs.

Melnick said she loves working with special needs students, but hopes that one day her job will become obsolete.

“Nothing would make me happier than for there not to be a need for this school, but that’s not the reality,” she said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Tracy Gregoire of Learning Disabilities Association of Maine speaks at a press conference July 14 at the Aucocisco School in Cape Elizabeth. The group said there is a link between toxic chemicals in everyday products and neurodevelopmental disorders in children.

Aucocisco School, a special needs school at 126 Spurwink Ave. in Cape Elizabeth, hosted a press conference July 14 about the link between toxic chemicals neurodevelopmental disabilities.

I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.