Transparency: Fundamental Protection Against Toxic Chemicals
Transparency or “right-to-know” is a fundamental concept in protecting public health against exposures to toxic chemicals. It refers to the consumer’s or the public’s right to know about what is in the products they use or that are being released into their environment. We should all be able to know what we are being exposed to, bringing into our homes, or putting into or on our bodies.
That’s why NRDC co-sponsored the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017 (SB 258) that Governor Brown signed into law today. The new law requires cleaning products—for the first time—to disclose the bulk of their ingredients, particularly chemicals of concern, on their labels and online. In a first for any product category, chemical ingredients in fragrances—previously a black box to consumers—will also have to be disclosed.
It took months of negotiations with industry to get there, but eventually key players in the cleaning product industry and the public health coalition—including NRDC, other co-sponsors of the legislation, domestic and janitorial worker groups, community groups, progressive industry voices, and coalitions like Californians for a Healthy and Green Economy—agreed on a way forward.
This agreement reflects the growing consumer demand for transparency. That demand for transparency is no surprise.
The simple fact of having to disclose what’s in a product or being released to the environment can have profound and powerful impacts:
- Consumers can make more informed decisions and choose products that are better for their health and their families’
- By choosing better products, consumers can create incentives for better products and an even playing field for companies that are trying to do the right thing.
- Because consumers often choose to avoid chemicals associated with adverse health impacts, companies often reformulate their products to avoid those chemicals. The result is safer products with fewer dangerous chemicals for consumers nationwide.
- Innovators who are leading the way on the use of safer chemicals have a better opportunity to compete. Others in the industry are pushed to improve because consumers are better able to compare products, making products containing chemicals of concern, or those lacking ingredient information, less attractive.
- Having information about the components of products allows regulators to take targeted action on problem chemicals when necessary.
If we don’t know what’s in the products on the market, it is much harder to stop the use of the true problem chemicals or to choose the healthier product. That is why we start from the fundamental premise that consumers and the public have a right to know what they are being exposed to. That’s why passage of SB 258 is a big step forward for Californians and people across the country.
This bill is part of NRDC’s multi-pronged approach to make sure the public and agencies have the information they need to protect public health.
- For instance, we are also working on making sure that California programs like the Safer Consumer Products Program are gathering sufficient information from manufacturers to evaluate the products and chemicals they are considering for an analysis of safer alternatives to the chemicals of concern in those products.
- Similarly, we are working to ensure that the Environmental Protection Agency takes full advantage of its authorities under the updated Toxic Substances Control Act to gather and evaluate information on all foreseeable uses and risks associated with the chemicals they are charged with reviewing.
Getting EPA to do the right thing during the Trump/Pruitt administration will be an uphill climb. But the adoption of the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act demonstrates that even while EPA is in the grip of chemical manufacturers like Dow, we can still make progress on informing and protecting the American public. We can’t give up that fight, and we won’t.
This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.