Mr. Clean Goes To Court, Pleads the Fifth

Household cleaner giants want to keep chemical ingredients secret

This page was published 14 years ago. Find the latest on Earthjustice’s work.

For more than a year, Procter & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive and other household cleaner giants have been refusing to follow a New York law requiring them to disclose the chemical ingredients in their products and the health risks they pose.

When we asked them nicely, they ignored us or refused. When thousands of people across the country put the pressure on them, they responded with platitudes and still did nothing. And for almost a year, they’ve been fighting a lawsuit against them, slowing down the process whenever possible.

But today, both sides got their day in court, arguing the case before a Manhattan judge. Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell reminded the court that studies have linked chemicals commonly found in household cleaners to health problems like asthma and reproductive abnormalities. And that people deserve to know whether the products they use to wash their dishes, launder their clothes, and clean their homes could be harmful.

Industry’s response: we’d rather wait until the authorities force us to provide the information.

Observers couldn’t help but notice the clear gender divide in the courtroom today. Industry—including Arm & Hammer manufacturer Church and Dwight and Lysol-maker Reckitt-Benckiser—presented an all male lineup. Keri was flanked by her female colleagues.

Very interesting.

This first-of-its-kind lawsuit could have national implications and comes as momentum builds nationally and internationally for toxics chemical reform. Today, the United States Senate committee on Environment and Public Works held a hearing looking into the current science related to the chemicals in our bodies. Advocates are awaiting introduction of federal legislation to reform the nation’s badly broken system of regulating toxic chemicals. And internationally, companies are preparing to comply with Europe’s new chemical regulations (known as REACH).

All of these efforts are getting us closer to a bright, non-toxic future. Starting with providing consumers with the information they need to protect themselves and their families.

From 2007–2018, Kathleen partnered with clean energy coalitions and grassroots organizations, empowered communities to fight against fracking, and worked with the Policy & Legislation team to have their messages heard by legislators.