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Mr. Clean—Tell Us What You're Made Of

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15 September 2010, 11:13 AM
Consumers will get info on what's in their household cleaners

A few months ago, I told you about our tough legal fight in New York to force household cleaner manufacturers to reveal what chemicals they are putting in products that we use every day in our homes.

Today, I am glad to report that our work has persuaded the state of New York to take action. The Commissioner of New York's Department of Environmental Conservation last week told manufacturers to disclose what their products contain and any health risks they pose, the first such request ever made by regulators in any state. (You can send Commissioner Pete Grannis a note of thanks here.)

This is a huge win for consumers that wouldn't have happened without strong legal pressure.

You might recall from my previous column that a long-forgotten state law requiring manufacturers to come clean was unearthed by former Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell a few years ago. Following her discovery, Earthjustice and our coalition partners mounted an aggressive legal and advocacy campaign that ultimately triggered the state's decision to start enforcing this important right-to-know law. A big thanks go out to our supporters, who held green-cleaning parties in their homes and helped generate nearly 40,000 emails to decision-makers and cleaning product companies.

But, this isn't just a victory for New York state. Because many of the manufacturers doing business in the state of New York sell their products throughout the U.S., we all stand to benefit. After all, Procter & Gamble's Mr. Clean products and other national brands are the same whether you're in Poughkeepsie or Portland.

The promise of greater transparency comes not a moment too soon. Consumers are increasingly concerned that the cost of a clean home is more than dollars and cents: the price tag might include their health. Independent studies have shown links between chemicals commonly used in household cleaners and serious health problems like asthma, nerve damage and hormone disruption.

Transparency regarding the contents of household cleaners and the health risks they pose will ultimately allow consumers nationwide to make informed purchases to protect themselves and their families.

The good news about household cleaners arrives as momentum is building in the United States and abroad for reform of how countries protect their citizens from exposure to toxic chemicals. Europe is moving forward with a program called REACH that requires chemical manufacturers to prove the safety of a chemical before it is permitted for use in consumer products.

Though the United States is lagging behind in similar efforts, Congress is considering making important changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), the U.S. law that does a poor job of protecting us from more than 80,000 chemical compounds that are approved for use in products ranging from cell phones to toys.

Ultimately, the American public has a right to know about the chemicals to which we are exposed, often on a daily basis. Companies like to keep this information hidden from public view, and the federal and state agencies charged with shining a light often choose to keep people in the dark. Which means it's Earthjustice's job to make sure people get the information they need and are entitled to.

The contents of household cleaners aren't the only chemical lists being withheld. At the height of the Gulf oil spill—as nearly 2 million gallons of an oil dispersant called Corexit was sprayed on the oil—we had to demand that the EPA unveil the chemicals in that dispersant.

The EPA had authorized this unprecedented use of Corexit without testing its effects on human health, let alone wildlife and the other living organisms of the Gulf. Earthjustice filed a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain Corexit's ingredient list and a lawsuit to obtain health and safety data on those ingredients once the list was revealed. We are now petitioning the EPA to follow long-neglected requirements of the Oil Pollution Act and define how much dispersant can be used in which parts of the ocean.

We shouldn't have to fight tooth and nail to uncover basic safety information. Protection of the health and safety of the American public, not the secrecy of chemical manufacturers, is paramount. But as long as companies withhold important safety information—and federal and state agencies let them do it—Earthjustice will continue fighting for your right to know.

I do not buy anything manufactured by Proctor And Gamble because they use animals to test their products. For me, this is a crime that should yield long term prison sentences, and stiff fines! My husband has long complained about the strong odors of these cleaners. Seems now, he was right all along! The main problem lies in the fact that Americans are obsessed with cleanliness. Human beings cannot live in a spotless, sterile environment, without sacrificing it's ability to fight infection and disease. Our bodies need to be exposed to dangers, in order to learn to fight against them. Colds don't kill us, because our anti bodies have learned, through contact with them, to fight them. This is how they react to all invading viruses, germs, toxins, etc. But, in a sterile environment, there is NOTHING to learn from! So, the first time someone comes into contact with a germ, or virus, it quickly kills them. Too many people are willing to sacrifice their health in favor of a spotless, sterile home. Even lingering food odors, which are pleasant to most of us, are treated like toxic stench. We need to stop this obsession before it gets out of hand. I use only natural, animal safe cleaners and products, and as many recycled products as I. Believe it or not, these natural cleaners , are NOT hard to find, and are NOT terribly expensive. PeTA offers a lot of animal safe cleaners. Check them out. I'm thankful to groups like EarthJustice who keep us informed, and fight for us.

Great article & many thank's to Earthjustice for pressuring corporations & the gov't to come clean about what was not only used in the oil spill but what we Americans are being exposed to everyday. I've always been weary of using harsh cleansing products in my home & try to either limit how often I clean things with harsh chemicals or better yet, use the natural ones. I've noticed that most of harsh ones don't exactly tell you what's in them but almost always say "Use only in well ventilated area". I don't really know of too many peoples houses that are well ventilated. Most people have their windows shut & will clean for several minutes while breathing poisonous vapors which can't be too good for you. But even if you clean with the windows open, it takes awhile for vapors to clear the air so unless you're wearing a respirator, it's almost impossible not to be exposed to the fumes. From now on, it's all natural products for me unless I absolutely need the harsh stuff.

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