In a major victory for consumer and worker right to know, California lawmakers today approved legislation to require manufacturers to disclose the ingredients in home-use and institutional cleaning products. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bill, California will once again become a national leader by requiring greater transparency of ingredients in consumer products.
The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017 (Lara, D-Bell Gardens) would require the chemicals in cleaning products – particularly chemicals of concern recognized by established scientific authoritative bodies – to be listed on both product labels and online. For the first time ever, the tightly-held secret ingredients in fragrance mixtures will also be disclosed.
Senator Lara facilitated an extremely productive NGO-industry stakeholder engagement process that resulted in a carefully crafted compromise that provides the increased transparency consumers and workers have been asking for while also allowing companies to protect trade secrets for chemicals that are not linked to negative impacts on human health or the environment. The legislation now not only enjoys the support of long time industry advocates for cleaning product ingredient disclosure – Seventh Generation and The Honest Company – but has also garnered the support of some of the world’s largest cleaning product companies including Ecolab, Procter & Gamble, RB, SC Johnson, and WD40, as well as their trade association – the Consumer Specialty Products Association.
“California will be the first in the nation to clear the air for consumers and workers about what is in their cleaning products. Consumers are demanding transparency and the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act will set a strong national standard. Consumer advocates and manufacturers worked together to disclose potentially harmful ingredients while allowing businesses to protect proprietary information and retain some flexibility,” said Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).
“Consumers and professional cleaners will be able to breathe easier knowing the ingredients in their household and institutional cleaning products,” said Bill Allayaud, EWG's California director of government affairs. “The demand for transparency is growing, as people, workers and business owners want to make informed decisions about the cleaning products they choose to purchase and use.”
Until now, consumers, workers and public health agencies have been left in the dark about the potential presence of allergens, environmental toxicants and chemicals linked to harmful health effects in cleaning products.
“Consumers are increasingly demanding information about the ingredients in their products, and this is especially true for cleaning products. Breast cancer survivors and new and expecting moms work extra hard to avoid chemicals that could contribute to a re-occurrence of cancer or negatively impact the healthy development of their children” said Nancy Buermeyer, senior policy strategist for Breast Cancer Prevention Partners. “This groundbreaking bill will help consumers make educated decisions about their purchases and avoid harmful chemicals.”
“This is truly a breakthrough! For the first time ever companies will be legally required to disclose ingredients in fragrance,” said Jamie McConnell, director of programs and policy at Women’s Voices for the Earth. “But passing SB 258 isn’t simply about listing ingredients – it’s about eliminating the barriers that prevent women and men from having the information they need to avoid concerning ingredients like powerful allergens, or synthetic musks linked to breast cancer, or known hormone disruptors like phthalates – all of which can be found in fragrance. Calling this bill a game-changer is an under-statement. This is going to change lives.”
Chemicals found in some ordinary cleaning products are known or suspected to cause cancer, birth defects, asthma and other serious health effects. Even cleaning products advertised as “green” or “natural” may contain ingredients that can cause health problems. Ingredient transparency allows consumers to make the right choices for their family’s health.
“We all have the right to know the ingredients in the products we bring into our homes that could affect our health,” said Avinash Kar, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s why consumers overwhelmingly support ingredient disclosure. The cleaning product industry recognized this consumer demand and worked with our coalition to craft a solution in Sen. Lara’s bill. This bill will put California, once again, at the forefront of public health protections that will benefit all Americans.”
New York is also in the process of finalizing industry guidance requiring cleaning product ingredient disclosure. This move came in response to a lawsuit filed by environmental, public health and consumer groups and would implement a law that has been on the books since 1971. With two of the nation’s largest states now mandating cleaning product ingredient disclosure, some companies will likely reformulate their products to remove ingredients of concern rather than publicly disclose their presence.
Federal regulations do not require manufacturers to disclose most ingredients in cleaning products. Some companies voluntarily disclose all the ingredients in their cleaning products, including fragrance ingredients, on their product labels. However, without mandatory disclosure, many companies will continue to keep ingredients secret.
Workers, particularly janitors and housekeeping staff, are exposed to chemicals in cleaning products all day, every day. Women account for 9 out of 10 maids and housekeepers, and of those, a majority are Latina or African American. Cleaning ingredients vary in the type of problems they can pose for workers: some cause acute allergic reactions, while others are associated with chronic or long-term effects such as asthma and cancer. Work-related asthma among California’s janitors and cleaners is nearly double the rate of the overall workforce.
“While research shines light on the harms of secret chemicals used in common cleaning products, very little of this information makes its way to domestic workers, like house cleaners, who are the most exposed. Domestic workers deserve the right to know and based on that information, hopefully have the ability to leverage the use of better products with their employers,” said Nancy Zuniga of the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California (IDEPSCA). “Commercial cleaning professionals and domestic workers have a right to know what’s hiding in these products so they can protect themselves whenever possible in their workplace – their health shouldn’t be compromised for the work they do.”
“Every day consumers are exposed to chemicals commonly found in products used to clean and disinfect their homes, cars and offices,” said Mayra Soto of Pacoima Beautiful. “Consumers of all socioeconomic backgrounds have a right to know exactly what chemicals are in the products they are buying for themselves and their children. As the expectation of more transparency continues to skyrocket, this mandatory disclosure will guarantee that consumers and workers will know what chemicals are in these cleaners to better protect their health.”
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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, Montana, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.