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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Time to Come Clean: What's in Toxic Cleaners

Had you attended any of the Green Living classes I started teaching almost 20 years ago now you might have been alerted to some of the very toxic ingredients in the many cleaning products sold in major grocery chains.

Somehow it seems not so long ago, but at least now the subject is at a critical mass and for that reason so many more people will have access to this information.
Do Common Cleaners Have Toxic Ingredients?
Lawsuit attempts to enforce arcane law in effort to force full disclosure on U.S. cleanser industry.

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.

Now, environmental groups are taking 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 is 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." The Soap and Detergent Association (SDA - ), the Home of the U.S. Cleaning Product and Oleochemical Industries(R), is a one-hundred plus member trade association representing the $30 billion U.S. cleaning products market. SDA members include the formulators of soaps, detergents, and general cleaning products used in household, commercial, industrial and institutional settings; companies that supply ingredients and finished packaging for these products; and oleochemical producers. SDA and its members are dedicated to improving health and the quality of life through sustainable cleaning products and practices. Website:

You can read more about the lawsuit on the Earthjustice Web site, and the industry's response.

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:

* Ajax Fabuloso All-Purpose Cleaner
* Dynamo
* Tom's of Maine
* Softsoap
* Palmolive (dishwashing soap)
* Ajax Dish Liquid
* Dermassage
* Murphy Oil Soap (wood cleaner, soap spray, soft wipes)
* Suavitel


* Calgon
* Vanish
* Resolve
* Spray ‘n Wash
* Woolite
* Lysol
* Finish (dishwashing detergent)
* Electrasol (dishwashing detergent)

Procter and Gamble

* Joy
* Cascade
* Ivory (laundry detergent and dish detergent only)
* Dawn
* Mr. Clean
* Swiffer
* Bounce
* Cheer
* Downy
* Dreft
* Era
* Gain
* Ivory
* Tide

Church and Dwight

* Brillo steel wool soap pads
* Brillo Scrub 'n' Toss
* Scrub Free Soap Scum Remover
* Scrub Free Mildew Stain Remover
* Scrub Free Disinfectant Bathroom Cleaner
* Arm & Hammer Clean Shower
* SNOBOL Toilet Bowl Cleaner
* Parsons' Ammonia
* Cameo Aluminum & Stainless Steel Cleaner
* Cameo Copper Brass & Porcelain Cleaner
* Kaboom (various bathroom cleaners)
* Orange Glo Hardwood Floor Care
* Orange Glo Wood Furniture Cleaner & Polish
* OxiClean (stain removers for clothing and carpet)

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