Environmental and public health advocates greeted the move as a victory for consumers brought on, in part, by a product ingredient right-to-know lawsuit filed against several household cleaner manufacturing giants just three weeks ago.
On February 17, the nonprofit environmental law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit against Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Church and Dwight, and Reckitt-Benckiser for refusing disclose the chemical ingredients in their products and the health risks they pose, as required by a New York state law.
SC Johnson was not targeted in the first-of-its kind lawsuit. After receiving notice last fall from Earthjustice that it was out of compliance with the state law, the company began a dialogue with Earthjustice and other groups about how it might come into compliance.
The following is a statement from Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell, who filed the February lawsuit.
"Sunlight is the best disinfectant. The more we know about the chemical ingredients in the products we use to wash our dishes, launder our clothes, and clean our homes, the better.
"We're glad to see SC Johnson taking the lead today, setting an example for transparency that the rest of the industry would do well to follow.
"We hope that the companies targeted in our lawsuit -- Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Church and Dwight, and Reckitt-Benckiser -- and indeed all cleaning product manufacturers take notice."
Studies show links between chemicals in common household cleaners and respiratory irritation, asthma, and allergies. Occupational exposures to some ethylene glycol ethers, often used as solvents in cleaning products, are associated with red blood cell damage, reproductive system damage, and birth defects. Some solvents in cleaning products are also toxic to the nervous system.
Independent research has also documented troubling hormone-disrupting qualities of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs) -- commonly found in detergents, disinfectants, stain removers, and floor cleaners. Some breakdown products of these manmade chemicals can mimic the hormone estrogen and when released into the environment are toxic to aquatic wildlife. In laboratory studies, they cause breast cancer cells to proliferate, alter cells in the placenta, and cause reproductive abnormalities. This raises concerns about whether they may increase the risk of breast cancer, miscarriages, and reproductive damage in humans.
Cleaning chemicals can also have severe impacts on respiratory health. Ethanolamines, chemicals used as surfactants in many cleaning products, have been shown to trigger asthma. And mixing common chemicals ammonia and chlorine creates toxic gases called chloramines causing shortness of breath, chest pain, wheezing, nausea, watery eyes, irritation and pneumonia and fluid in the lungs.
Because many cleaning chemicals survive the sewage system and are released into streams, there is growing concern that such chemicals pose a threat to fish and other aquatic wildlife, causing, among other things, the "feminization" of male fish and throwing ecosystems out of balance.
Keri Powell, Earthjustice, (845) 265-2445
Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext 235