Cleanser makers told to come clean
Activists want ingredients list
NEW YORK - It’s the mystery under the kitchen sink.
Exactly what’s in floor cleaner? What’s stain remover made of? And what effects, if any, might they have on human health or the environment?
Environmental advocates want to know, and they asked a court yesterday to use a 1971 New York state law to force such manufacturers and Procter & Gamble and Colgate-Palmolive to reveal just what makes up such household staples as Ajax, Ivory soap, and Tide.
The cleanser industry - which recently ramped up voluntary efforts to unveil product ingredients - says that the legal case is unwarranted, and that fears about health risks are misinformed.
But groups including the American Lung Association and the Sierra Club want the public to know more.
Members “want access to the information so they can determine the kind of chemicals that they are introducing into their homes and whether there are any risks associated with them,’’ Keri Powell, an attorney for the environmental firm Earthjustice, told a state judge at a hearing yesterday.
A victory in the New York case would require companies to report their contents only to the state. But the advocates hope it will fuel nationwide changes to regulations on chemicals in cleaners and other products.
The case comes amid growing concerns about potential toxins lurking in consumer goods, from the heavy metal cadmium in jewelry to the chemical bisphenol A in baby bottles.
While lawyers argued the cleaning-products case in New York, a Senate subcommittee in Washington held a hearing to examine current science on the public’s exposure to toxic chemicals.
Some studies have linked cleaning product components to asthma, antibiotic resistance, hormone changes, and other health problems. The industry’s major trade group, the Soap and Detergent Association, assails the research as flawed, says the products are safe if used correctly, and notes that cleaning can itself help stop the spread of disease.
Federal environmental laws don’t require most household cleaning products to list their ingredients, though there are congressional proposals to change that. The Consumer Product Safety Commission requires hazard warning labels on some cleansers, and the National Institutes of Health offer some health and safety information for hundreds of cleaning products, drawn from data gathered for industrial use.
Cleanser industry groups unveiled their own ingredient-listing initiative last month, offering information on participating manufacturers’ websites. New York-based Colgate-Palmolive Co., Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Co., and several others are participating.
Environmental advocates welcome the disclosures but say they are too selective and vague - some components can be listed simply as “fragrance’’ or “dye,’’ for instance.