Following on a February lawsuit that sought to enforce an arcane New York law requiring the disclosure of ingredients in cleaning products, Sen. Al Franken -- the recently minted senator from Minnesota -- has introduced a bill that would require disclosure across the country.
Nontoxic and DIY cleaning have been major rallying points of the green consumer movement, as evidence mounts that certain chemicals in some products may be unhealthy, even in small doses.
People concerned about the use of chemicals in their homes and schools have long sought out alternative and DIY cleansers that promise nontoxic cleaning. Ingredients in cleansers could contaminate indoor air, or lead to more subtle developmental, hormonal or reproductive effects, according to laboratory studies on those specific ingredients.
In February, environmental groups took several giants of the conventional cleanser industry to court, in an effort to enforce a forgotten New York law they say requires the companies to disclose all chemical ingredients in their products. The 1976 law, according to Earthjustice "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."
Earthjustice filed the lawsuit on behalf of a coalition of state and national groups: 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.
Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Church and Dwight and Reckitt-Benckiser, and the dozens of brands each produces, are being targeted because they did not respond to a request to disclose their ingredients, as apparently is required by law. 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.
(Clorox, whose Greenworks brand has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, has also responded, according to David Willett, a Sierra Club spokesman: "Our partnership with the Greenworks line of products did facilitate more direct conversations because we now have relationships with people at Clorox, but our partnership itself did not play a role. Rather it was Clorox's assurance ... that they have a plan which the company has already started implementing for disclosing ingredients in accordance with the law.")
The Soap and Detergent Association, an industry group for U.S. cleaning products manufacturers, responded to the lawsuit by saying it "is unfounded, lacks legal standing and its claims are not supported by state law." The association pointed to its November 2008 Consumer Product Ingredient Communication Initiative, a voluntary program to disclose more ingredients publicly.
"Responsible manufacturers ensure their products go through comprehensive, extensive risk assessments, and also review scientific developments and monitor product use data that may affect the safety assessment process," the SDA statement reads, in part. "An incredible amount of research and development goes on before these products ever hit the shelves, not to mention that the products must meet federal and state quality and safety regulations."
Among the ingredients of concern ethylene glycol ethers and other solvents, alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), surfactants called ethanolamines as well as chlorine and ammonia in combination. The following is a list of the brands, as listed by Earthjustice, made by each company targeted in the lawsuit:
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