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What’s in Our Cleaning Products, Gov. Cuomo?

The New York governor promised to provide access to information about potentially harmful chemicals in household cleaning products. But he has not yet kept that promise.

Certain chemicals likely to be present in cleaning products can be toxic. Health advocates want a clear view of what's inside the bottle. (Natali_Mis / Shutterstock)

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Content originally published by Albany Times Union.

Many of the cleaning products we buy seem to be cleaning our homes, when they really are exposing our bodies to dangerous chemicals with potentially long-term effects. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at the label.

Go look under your kitchen sink, pull out any random cleaner, and chances are you will find there are no ingredients listed. What’s more, there is no other resource disclosing what chemicals are in the product or whether they present a health hazard.

We could have a much better idea of what’s in our cleaning products. In his 2017 State of the State, Gov. Andrew Cuomo promised to give us access to that information. In his 2018 State of the State, he claimed to have spearheaded a new disclosure initiative.

But the guidance implementing that initiative actually is languishing on his desk, so New Yorkers still are not getting the information they need to protect themselves and their families from toxic chemicals. The guidance we have been waiting for should be published immediately.

Once the governor keeps his promise, New York will require that companies disclose on their websites the ingredients in household cleaning products. Companies also will have to tell the public if any ingredients are linked to health issues and or harms to the environment.

We already know that certain chemicals likely to be present in cleaning products can be pretty toxic. They can cause or contribute to infertility, birth defects, breast cancer, learning and developmental disabilities, asthma and respiratory disorders, and hormone disruption. If you or your family have a history of any of these problems, you probably don’t want to bring those chemicals into your home. But you can’t protect yourselves from hazardous cleaning products if the manufacturers don’t tell you what’s in them.

The notion that consumers have a right to know what chemicals they’re bringing home is not a new one. In fact, the plan sitting on the governor’s desk owes its existence to a New York state regulation that largely has been ignored since 1976. In 2008, a coalition of concerned national and state environmental and health advocates filed a lawsuit against cleaning product manufacturers that refused to provide any information about their product ingredients.

The suit brought this regulation out of obscurity and to the attention of state policy makers. Now, the governor can breathe new life into the regulation by releasing the guidance. Disclosure would begin as soon as January 2019.

While New Yorkers will have to wait another year for access to the data, once the chemicals in cleaning products are disclosed online, the information becomes available to everyone in the world who wants to know how to protect themselves and their families. Consumers will be able to use their market power to press manufacturers for safer products.

The New York disclosure program will give consumers more information about chemicals in cleaning products than they can get under any other state law, including a new law passed in California. Under the New York guidance, consumers will learn not only what the manufacturer intentionally put into the product, but also what by-products were created during the manufacturing process. And they will learn about a wider range of health hazards linked to the chemicals — including asthma — than ever before. In New York, one out of every 10 residents has asthma.

So what’s the holdup? Cuomo has promised disclosure and has announced his support for the program, so why is he keeping us waiting? It’s time to make that promise real. New Yorkers’ health is too important for further delay.

Deborah Goldberg is the managing attorney for Earthjustice in New York City, which represented disclosure advocates in the 2008 lawsuit against cleaning product manufacturers.

From 2008–2019, Deborah was the managing attorney of the Northeast regional office, based in New York, where she supervised and conducted legal advocacy and litigation related to fracking, climate change and environmental health.

Established in 2008, Earthjustice’s Northeast Office, located in New York City, is at the forefront of issues at the intersection of energy, environmental health, and social justice.