Major Cleaning Product Makers Withhold Ingredient Information
Absent Enforceable Rule from NYS, Consumers Are Left In the Dark
Seventh Generation, Reckitt Benckiser Lead, Colgate Palmolive Lags in Disclosure
ALBANY, NY -- September 3, 2020 – In a new report released today, Clean and Healthy New York (CHNY) assessed five major cleaning product companies to determine if and how they conform to California law and New York State’s Best Management Practices for ingredient disclosure. The report found that four of the five companies are substantially in compliance with California legal requirements, but none of the companies have incorporated 50% of NYS Best Management
Practices. CHNY called on the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to adopt the Best Management Practices as regulations to give household and corporate purchasers the information they need to know to make informed decisions.
The ingredients in cleaning products have long been obscured to consumers. Chemicals found in common household cleansers have been found to increase the risk of cancer, asthma, birth defects, and other serious, chronic medical conditions. While cleaning supplies have always held an important place in the American marketplace, their use has grown exponentially since the Coronavirus outbreak. Sales of aerosol disinfectants, bath and shower wipes, and multipurpose cleansers have grown by 385.3%, 180%, and 148.2%, respectively.
Recent state policy changes in New York and California have sought to demystify the chemical composition of cleansers. In 2018, New York State issued Guidance on cleaning product regulations authorized under a 1971 law. A court ruling subsequently determined that the state must issue new regulations, an effort that is now underway. In the interim, their Guidance is reflected in available Best Management Practices.
In January 2020, California law SB 258 went into effect, requiring companies that sell household cleaning products to disclose intentionally-added ingredients along with their function, CAS number, and whether the chemicals appear on any of 22 authoritative lists as chemicals of concern to the state of California. Future California requirements go further, including disclosure by product when one or more chemicals appear on an authoritative list of chemicals identified as causing cancer or reproductive harm.
"At a time when cleanser use is at an all-time high, families, schools, and businesses need to know if ingredients could increase risk of health problems like asthma, even while fighting COVID-19. The choice isn't either-or - but it's hard to tell when companies aren't fully transparent," said Bobbi Wilding, Deputy Director of Clean and Healthy New York, and primary author of the report. "This report shows just how important it is for New York State to enact its strong Best Management Practices as Regulation - because clearly, otherwise few companies are embracing full transparency."
Key report findings are as follows:
No company has adopted all of the expanded disclosure components of New York State’s Best Management Practices.
Clorox, Colgate-Palmolive, and Procter and Gamble have not adopted New York’s expanded lists of chemicals of concern – particularly not letting consumers know when a cleaning product ingredient can cause or trigger asthma attacks, known as “asthmagens.” California law does not require their identification.
Seventh Generation and RB (maker of products like Lysol® and Easy-Off ® scored highest for their levels of disclosure. Both meet all of the California law’s requirements for online disclosure.
Colgate-Palmolive (overall score: 37%) scored the lowest, achieving only 58% of the legal requirements under current California law. However, they do disclose the specific hazards associated with specific ingredients, something recommended by New York State and not required by California law.
Clorox (overall score: 50%) generally meets California law, but did not identify any nonfuncational ingredients in any of the products included in the report, nor did the company reply to outreach from Clean and Healthy New York. Their ingredient pages do not link to definitions of the lists of chemicals of concern. The only NYS Best Management Practices they adopt is identifying specific chemicals that appear on a list of chemicals of concern and on which specific list(s) they appear.
Procter and Gamble (overall score: 52%) technically meets nearly all of the CA requirements, but has adopted none of the New York State BMPs but also provides incomplete information in inconsistent ways across sub-brands, which may be confusing to consumers. They alone of the five companies we surveyed do not indicate which specific ingredients are present on which specific lists of chemicals of concern.
Seventh Generation (overall score: 79%) scored highest in the report. They did not disclose many chemicals of concern because they have them phased out as part of a broad corporate policy. They do not follow New York State’s Best Management Practice of identifying how much they disclose – leaving an uninformed website visitor to be uncertain whether the absence of chemicals of concern is because they are not present in the product, or because the company does not disclose them.
RB (overall score: 72%) has designed a user-friendly website disclosure infrastructure, with clear delineation of non-fragrance ingredients, fragrance ingredients, and non-functional ingredients (chemicals present as byproducts of the manufacturing process or contaminants in raw materials). They identify applicable hazard endpoints for each chemical present, including all of those on New York State’s list.
"Clean and Healthy New York's report, 'Coming Clean on Cleansers' demonstrates that NY consumers still do not have a clear picture of what chemicals are in the products we all use in our homes every day and the risks that those chemicals present to our families," said Caitlin Ferrante, Conservation Program Manager, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. "NYS now has the chance to use its power as a national leader on ingredient disclosure and turn DEC’s current disclosure guidance into the most robust program in the country. As the report outlines, regulations that flow from the current guidance, unaltered by industry carve-outs, will keep NY’s air, water, and communities cleaner and less toxic."
“Full disclosure is what allows responsible companies to demonstrate the safety of their products to their customers,” said Bob Rossi, Executive Director of the New York Sustainable Business Council. “Such disclosure—if required of and practiced by all companies—would encourage clean tech innovation and empower New Yorkers to be informed consumers that vote with their dollar.”
"Not to be fully transparent, while giving the impression that you are, is doubly misleading," said Kathy Curtis, Executive Director of Clean and Healthy New York. "The public deserves to know about any hazard a product poses. As New York sets thresholds for disclosure, considerations of what is most protective of public health and the environment should be paramount."