A coalition of state and national groups has filed a law suit against some of the biggest brand names in cleaning products in an effort to reveal the chemical ingredients in their products and potential health risks.
Ingredient disclosure requirements are virtually non-existent in the United States.
The exception is a long-forgotten New York state law which requires household and commercial cleaner companies selling their products in New York to file semi-annual reports with the state listing the chemicals contained in their products and describing any company research on these chemicals' health and environmental effects. But since the 1976 law was passed, companies have not filed a single report.
Last fall, environmental and public health advocates sent letters to more than a dozen companies asking them to comply with the law. The law suit has been filed against the companies that ignored or refused the request. They are Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG-W), Colgate-Palmolive (NYSE: CL), Church and Dwight (NYSE: CHD), and Reckitt-Benckiser (RB.L).
The nonprofit public interest law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit last week on behalf of: Women's Voices for the Earth, Environmental Advocates of New York, New York Public Interest Research Group, Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and American Lung Association in New York.
The first-of-its-kind case could have national implications. Independent studies into chemicals contained in cleaning products continue to find health effects ranging from asthma to hormone disruption.
"As the evidence showing the risks posed by chemicals in household cleaners continues to mount, people deserve to know whether the products they use to wash their dishes, launder their clothes, and clean their homes could be harmful," said Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell. "Sunlight is the best disinfectant, as they say. It's time to dust off this important law and take the first step in giving consumers the information they need to protect themselves and their families."
Several companies, including the California-based Sunshine Makers, Inc. (manufacturers of Simple Green products), complied with the request, filing reports with the state for the first time.
"This New York law can protect consumers by allowing a government agency such as the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to review confidential business information," Tom Neltner, co-Chair of Sierra Club's Toxics Committeem said.
Independent research has also documented troubling hormone-disrupting qualities of alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs)--commonly found in detergents, disinfectants, stain removers, and floor cleaners. Some breakdown products of these manmade chemicals can mimic the hormone estrogen and when released into the environment are toxic to aquatic wildlife. In laboratory studies, they cause breast cancer cells to proliferate, alter cells in the placenta, and cause reproductive abnormalities. This raises concerns about whether they may increase the risk of breast cancer, miscarriages, and reproductive damage in humans.
"It's outrageous that there are hidden ingredients in our cleaning products that may cause serious reproductive problems," says Tracy Lakatua, executive director of Women's Voices for the Earth. "In our 2007 report Household Hazards we identified hundreds of cleaning products containing ingredients linked to infertility, birth defects and asthma. Consumers deserve to know if these kinds of chemicals are in their products so they can make healthy choices for themselves and their families."