For the first time, the State of New York will begin requiring household cleaning companies to reveal the chemical ingredients in their products and any health risks they pose.
The move was triggered by public health and environmental advocates, who urged New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation to enforce disclosure requirements dating back more than 30 years. Independent studies show a link between many chemicals commonly found in cleaning products and health effects ranging from nerve damage to hormone disruption. With growing concern about the potential hazards of chemicals in these products, the advocates mounted a campaign pressing the State to uphold consumers’ right to know and begin enforcing the 33-year-old law.
The first-of-its-kind policy could have national implications, as momentum builds here and abroad for toxic chemical reform. Congress is considering legislation to overhaul U.S. chemicals policy and in July debated a bill forcing the chemical industry to prove the safety of a chemical before it could be used in products. Internationally, companies are preparing to comply with a similar European law (known as REACH) already taking effect.
“Full ingredient disclosure is a critical step toward ensuring safer, healthier products,” said Kathy Curtis, policy director from Clean New York. “Consumers around the country will benefit from New York's leadership.”
Last year, on behalf of 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, the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice sued household cleaning giants Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Arm & Hammer parent company Church and Dwight and Lysol-maker Reckitt-Benckiser for failing to submit required semi-annual ingredient reports. A judge dismissed the lawsuit last month without ruling on the merits of the groups’ claims. But during the court case, the companies said they would file disclosure reports if asked to do so by the State.
DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis has now made that request by announcing the agency’s new policy in an invitation to a stakeholders’ meeting sent to groups late yesterday afternoon.
“By making the companies come clean about what is in their products, New York State is initiating an age of greater transparency and is empowering people to protect themselves and their families,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg, who will be handling a likely appeal of the case against the cleaning product companies, which have yet to file any reports.
The stakeholders’ meeting, to be held on October 6, will bring together DEC officials, public health and environmental groups, and cleaning product companies to begin a process for specifying mutually acceptable “content, format, and logistics” for disclosure of chemicals in the products.“We are incredibly pleased that the New York DEC is requesting this information from product makers. Consumers have a right to know what they are being exposed from cleaning products,” said Erin Switalski, executive director of Women’s Voices for the Earth. “Making product ingredient information public is a critical step towards protecting the health and well-being of all consumers.”
“It's high time that New York State enforce the law and hold cleaning product manufacturers accountable for the dangerous chemicals in their products. We applaud the Department of Environmental Conservation for taking this long-awaited action,” said Saima Anjam, Environmental Advocates of New York.
Cleaning product manufacturers are taking notice of the changing climate toward toxics in products. In response to a letter sent by the groups involved in the court case, several companies, including the California-based Sunshine Makers, Inc. (manufacturers of Simple Green products), filed reports with the State for the first time. And three weeks after the disclosure lawsuit was filed, household cleaner manufacturing giant SC Johnson announced that it would begin disclosing the chemical ingredients in its products through product labels and a website.
“We commend the DEC for requiring manufacturers to 'come clean' about the ingredients in their products,” said Laura Haight, senior environmental associate with NYPIRG. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.”
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.
“Everyone knows somebody with breast cancer,” said Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition President Karen Miller. “While researchers are connecting the dots between toxic exposure found in products we use every day, regulatory agencies must step up the pace to provide consumers with the right to know what they are bringing into their homes.”
“Many chemicals in cleaning products and air fresheners are endocrine disruptors which are suspected of having links to cancer, and which alter mammary gland development in animal studies. The public has the right to know if some of the potentially harmful chemicals of concern, such as alkyphenols, terpenes, benzene, some antimicrobial agents and certain synthetic musks are in the products they use,” said Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer! Program Coordinator Margaret Roberts.
“This is a long-overdue protection that consumers need and deserve,” said New York State United Teachers Vice President Kathleen Donahue.
“The State of New York's commitment to full disclosure of chemical ingredients is a significant step,” said Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter Conservation Program Manager Roger Downs. “Now New Yorkers can make educated choices about the household products that they use.”
“With a New York law already in place to protect children at schools from the toxic chemicals in cleaning products, the enforcement of this disclosure requirement will give parents the opportunity to make their homes as safe as schools,” Grassroots Environmental Education Executive Director Patti Wood.
Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 235
Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.