CA: Consumers Have Right to Know What’s in Cleaning Products

iStock

The passage of the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017 (SB 258) in the California Assembly today represents a big win for consumers across the country. If Governor Brown signs the bill, cleaning products will be required—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, fragrance ingredients—previously a black box to consumers—will also have to be disclosed. (Before the bill goes to Governor Brown, the Senate, which approved SB 258 in May, must approve the final version by September 15.) 

Unlike cosmetics and food, cleaning products have not been required until now to disclose most of their ingredients. Yet, similar to food and cosmetics, these are products that people bring into their homes and are exposed to on a regular basis. Janitors and domestic worker face even greater exposure and risks.

This is why we firmly believe that people have a right to know what’s in the products they purchase and bring into their homes. They need this information to make the right decision for themselves and their families—to account for a son’s asthma, a daughter’s allergies, one’s own skin condition, or a family history of certain diseases.

Transparency is an idea that has been gaining steam for a while and is now an expectation for consumers. This has been reflected in a steady stream of commitments of varying breadth and depth on ingredient disclosure from both consumer product companies and retail chains. This bill represents the next step in that evolution.

What makes the passage of this bill a particularly powerful moment in this development is the collective step taken by much of the cleaning product industry. The leading trade association for the cleaning products industry—the Consumer Specialty Products Association—and many of the leading companies, such as Procter & Gamble, RB, and SC Johnson, engaged in extended dialogue with public health groups for months to reach this compromise. Credit also goes to Senator Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill’s author, and his staff, who created the room and conditions for that dialogue to bear fruit.

The bill strikes a careful balance between the right of consumers to know what’s in the products they are buying and the manufacturer’s ability to maintain certain information as confidential. Manufacturers will have to disclose on label and online* ingredients that are included on a comprehensive list of chemicals that are linked to health concerns, such as chemicals included on California’s widely recognized and respected Proposition 65 list of known carcinogens and reproductive toxicants. But they will be able to protect the identity of other chemicals when that information is substantiated as a trade secret.

California—along with the State of New York, which is finalizing guidelines to implement a 1971 law that will also create requirements for ingredient disclosure—is once again leading on the issue and is advancing public health protections for all of us. With these actions from two of the largest markets in the country, people across the country will have access to far greater information about what’s in the bottle of window cleaner or detergent they buy and will be able to make far more informed decisions. Yet businesses’ desire to protect certain information will still be met. It’s an example that we hope more industries will take to heart.

*There are some differences between what is disclosed on the label and what is disclosed online; the online disclosure is more comprehensive.

This blog provides general information, not legal advice. If you need legal help, please consult a lawyer in your state.

About the Authors

Avinash Kar

Senior Attorney, Health & Environment program

Join Us