While state law authorizes the government to require semi-annual ingredient disclosure reports, state officials have never exercised this authority.
Commissioner Pete Grannis, who heads the state Department of Environmental Conservation, announced the agency's new policy in a letter of invitation to stakeholders to attend a planning meeting set for October 6 in Albany.
Grannis wrote, "Due to increased public interest in such information, I have decided to begin the process of implementing the Department's authority to require manufacturers of domestic and commercial household cleansing products distributed, sold or offered for sale in the state to disclose the ingredients of their products..."
Credit for the move is claimed by public health and environmental advocates, who have urged the DEC to enforce the disclosure requirements.
Chemicals in cleansers can enter the body through the skin and by inhalation. (Photo credit unknown)
Last year, 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 nonprofit law firm Earthjustice sued household cleaning giants Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Arm Hammer parent company Church and Dwight and Lysol-maker Reckitt-Benckiser for failing to submit required semi-annual ingredient reports.
A New York State Supreme Court judge dismissed the lawsuit last month without ruling on the merits of the groups' claims. During the court case, the companies said they would file disclosure reports if required to do so by the state.
"By making the companies come clean about what is in their products, New York State is initiating an age of greater transparency and is empowering people to protect themselves and their families," said Earthjustice managing attorney Deborah Goldberg, who will be handling a likely appeal of the case against the cleaning product companies.
Independent studies show a link between many chemicals commonly found in cleaning products and health effects ranging from nerve damage to hormone disruption. With growing concern about the potential hazards of chemicals in these products, the advocates mounted a campaign pressing the state to uphold consumers' right to know and begin enforcing the 33-year-old law.
"Full ingredient disclosure is a critical step toward ensuring safer, healthier products," said Kathy Curtis, policy director from the organization Clean New York. "Consumers around the country will benefit from New York's leadership."
Earthjustice points out that cleaning product manufacturers are taking notice of the changing climate toward toxics in products. In response to a letter sent by the groups involved in the court case, several companies, including the California-based Sunshine Makers, Inc., manufacturers of Simple Green products, filed reports with the State of New York for the first time.
Three weeks after the disclosure lawsuit was filed, household cleaner manufacturing giant SC Johnson announced that it would begin disclosing the chemical ingredients in its products through product labels and online.
"It's high time that New York State enforces the law and holds cleaning product manufacturers accountable for the dangerous chemicals in their products. We applaud the Department of Environmental Conservation for taking this long-awaited action," said Saima Anjam on behalf of Environmental Advocates of New York.
New York's new policy could have national implications, as momentum builds for toxic chemical reform. Congress is considering legislation to overhaul U.S. chemicals policy and in July debated a bill forcing the chemical industry to prove the safety of a chemical before it could be used in products.
Capital Region Action Against Breast Cancer! Program Coordinator Margaret Roberts said, "Many chemicals in cleaning products and air fresheners are endocrine disruptors which are suspected of having links to cancer, and which alter mammary gland development in animal studies. The public has the right to know if some of the potentially harmful chemicals of concern, such as alkyphenols, terpenes, benzene, some antimicrobial agents and certain synthetic musks are in the products they use."
"Everyone knows somebody with breast cancer," said Huntington Breast Cancer Action Coalition President Karen Miller. "While researchers are connecting the dots between toxic exposure found in products we use every day, regulatory agencies must step up the pace to provide consumers with the right to know what they are bringing into their homes."
Internationally, companies must comply with a European law, known as REACH, which stands for Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances. REACH became law across the European Union in June 2007.
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