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Let The Sunshine In!

It's time for cleaning product makers to step out of the shadows.

It's one of the simple pleasures in life: the contentment that comes from a freshly cleaned house.

Wouldn't it be great to add some peace of mind to that feeling? The kind that comes from knowing that all the sprays, scrubs, and soaps used to get your house clean are safe and non toxic?

At Earthjustice, we're working to make that a reality -- using a law that requires household cleaner companies to disclose the chemical ingredients in their products and the health risks they pose.

Studies have linked chemicals commonly found in household cleaners to health problems like asthma and reproductive abnormalities. We believe that people deserve to know whether the products they use to wash their dishes, launder their clothes, and clean their homes contain these chemicals. That way, they can make informed choices about how to protect their families and – even better – ask companies to leave these harmful chemicals out of their products altogether!

Unfortunately, some household cleaner companies would rather keep this information out of the public's hands. Procter & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive, Arm & Hammer manufacturer Church and Dwight and Lysol-maker Reckitt-Benckiser have refused to follow the law and have been fighting Earthjustice in court.

It's been a David & Goliath-type battle. Each company targeted in the case has retained a separate law firm, leaving Earthjustice attorneys up against four of the biggest corporate firms in the country. And when Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell argued the case in court in February 2010, observers couldn't help but notice the clear gender divide in the courtroom. Industry presented an all male lineup; Powell was flanked by her female colleagues.

In this first-of-its-kind lawsuit, Earthjustice's Northeast office is representing a coalition of state and national groups in the case: Women's Voices for the Earth, Environmental Advocates of New York, New York Public Interest Research Group, RiverKeeper, Sierra Club, and American Lung Association in New York.

Ingredient disclosure requirements are virtually non-existent in the United States. The exception is a nearly-forgotten New York state law which requires household and commercial cleaner companies to file reports with the state listing the chemicals in their products. They're also required to report on any company research on these chemicals' health and environmental effects.

But when we asked to see all the reports filed in the three decades since the 1976 law was passed, we were shocked. There wasn't a single report on file. And when we informed company's of the law's existence, many balked at having to file these reports -- including the four targeted in Earthjustice's lawsuit.

Some companies are falling into line. In response to Earthjustice's initial request California-based Sunshine Makers, Inc. (manufacturers of Simple Green products), filed a report with the state for the first time. And just three weeks after Earthjustice filed its case, SC Johnson (manufacturer of Windex, Pledge and Glade) announced it would begin disclosing the chemical ingredients in its products through product labels and a website.

Referring to the importance of transparency and openness, Justice Louis Brandeis once said "Sunlight is the best disinfectant." Hopefully we'll someday be able to amend Justice Brandeis' words: crediting sunshine with bringing us a better and safer disinfectant!

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