Groups Call On NY’s Top Environmental Cop To Enforce 40-year-old Disclosure Law For Cleaning Products
Just in Time for Spring Cleaning, One-Stop Shopping for Cleaner Ingredients Would Benefit New Yorkers
ALBANY, NY (March 19, 2012)— Twenty one groups delivered a letter to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joseph Martens today asking him to enforce a nearly 40-year-old law that requires the manufacturers of household cleaning products to disclose the sometimes dangerous and toxic chemical ingredients in their products, as well as the health risks the chemicals pose. For maximum benefit to consumers, the groups also called for a user-friendly, searchable, centralized database of product and chemical data.
“Spring is nearly here and with it spring cleaning. As New Yorkers break out their mops and buckets, they shouldn’t still be guessing what’s in their cleaning products” said Saima Anjam of Environmental Advocates of New York. “It’s time to step up and dust off this 40-year-old law. Let’s shine some light on what consumers are bringing into their homes and exposing their families to.”
“What are cleaning product manufacturers trying to hide?” said Ansje Miller, Eastern States Director for the Center for Environmental Health. “Under the status quo, the only ones left in the dark are the consumers and workers who use cleaning products on a regular basis. If these products were truly safe, disclosing their ingredients shouldn’t be a problem.”
“New Yorkers have a right to know what chemicals are in cleaning products, and 40 years is much too long a time to wait for a law to be enforced,” said Sarah Eckel, Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “According to the EPA, cleaning products are among the top five most common exposures to poison for children. New Yorkers’ right to be informed and protect their families is long overdue.”
Since 1976, state regulations have required that manufacturers of household cleaning products selling their wares in New York file semi-annual reports with the DEC listing the chemicals in their products and describing any company research on their health and environmental effects. The law was passed in 1971. Decades went by without meaningful enforcement, depriving consumers of information they need to protect themselves.
“Scofflaw cleaning product companies need to know that they cannot ignore New York's regulations any longer,” said Deborah Goldberg, Managing Attorney of Earthjustice. “On the other hand, full disclosure will help green and responsible companies, because once there is a website that offers easy product comparisons, consumers can stop buying the toxic cleaners.”
In the letter, the organizations, which include American Lung Association in New York, Center for Health, Environment & Justice, Clean and Healthy New York, CRAAB!, Center for Environmental Health, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Citizens' Environmental Coalition, Consumers Union, Earthjustice, Empire State Consumer Project, Environmental Advocates of New York, Grassroots Environmental Education, Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition, Institute for Health and the Environment, New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, New York Public Interest Research Group, NYSUT, Riverkeeper, Inc., Sierra Club, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, and Women’s Voices for the Earth formally requested that Commissioner Martens make public disclosure of household cleaning product ingredients a priority. The DEC has committed to require that household cleaner companies reveal the chemicals in their products and any health risks they pose and has been working to develop a system that will provide this valuable information to the public. But the agency’s proposal has been under consideration for more than a year, and it is now time to make this process a priority. The groups are asking the agency to accelerate the timeline for action, so New Yorkers have access to this information as soon as possible.
Household cleaning products typically contain an array of chemicals that can be harmful to public health and to the environment. A growing body of evidence associates exposure to such chemicals with long-term effects, such as cancer and hormone disruption. And because many cleaning chemicals survive sewage treatment systems intact and are released into streams and other bodies of water, there is growing concern such chemicals pose a threat to fish and other wildlife.
“Some companies seem to think that household cleaner chemical disclosure should be made only on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. Well, guess what: New Yorkers need to know, because toxic chemicals in household products can affect our quality—and length—of life,” said Bobbi Chase Wilding, Deputy Director for Clean and Healthy New York. “We’re counting on DEC to move forward quickly to collect this crucial information from all companies and provide the public easy access.”
“The Sierra Club recognizes the importance of cleaning to protect health especially of children, elderly, pregnant woman and others with existing health conditions. But just as people are not the same, we recognize that not all cleaning products are the same. Disclosing ingredients will help household consumers identify the products that best protects their family’s health, and it will make it easier to reward innovative companies who create effective products that are safer for health and the environment,” said Steve Ashkin, Sierra Club Toxics Committee.
“From detergents to disinfectants and aerosol sprays, these household products do more than make our homes sparkle: they contribute to indoor air pollution, are poisonous if ingested, and can be harmful if touched,” said Laura Haight, New York Public Interest Research Group. “The public has a right to know what these products contain so they can make informed decisions as consumers.”
The groups assert that contrary to the claims of household cleaning product manufacturers, it is not enough to have industry-selected information posted voluntarily on individual company web sites. Multiple locations and inconsistent presentations of data make it difficult, if not impossible, for even the most diligent consumers to determine whether a particular cleaning product contains dangerous chemicals or if there are safer alternatives on the market.
The solution, the groups say, is a user-friendly, searchable, centralized database of product and chemical data.
“In our recent report, Dirty Secrets, we revealed that popular cleaning products like Tide Free and Gentle laundry detergent contain some nasty chemicals like 1-4 dioxane, a known carcinogen, that are not disclosed on the label,” said Erin Switalski, executive director of Women’s Voices for the Earth. “New York has a law on the books that would require companies to disclose the presence of such chemicals-all the state needs to do is start enforcing it.”
“Many household cleaners contain chemicals that can trigger asthma attacks, leaving users struggling to catch their breath,” said Michael Seilback, VP Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York. “Giving consumers access to the information they need to protect their health makes sense and is New York State law: we urge the Commissioner to enforce it.”
Despite the dangers of many of the chemicals used in cleaning products, there is no state or federal requirement compelling cleaning product manufacturers to identify chemical ingredients on product labels. Although New York’s reporting law has largely been forgotten, its mere existence means the state leads the nation in household cleaner right-to-know laws.