Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Coming Clean on Household Cleaners

By Julie Scelfo

The New York Times S.C. Johnson, maker of Windex and other cleaning products, announced that it would begin disclosing ingredients.

Consumers who want to know what’s in the household cleaning products they purchase have long been frustrated: most cleaning product manufacturers do not disclose product ingredients, and no federal law requires them to do so.

So Green Inc. took notice last month when Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, asked a New York State judge to force several major manufacturers to file reports listing all ingredients — including those that are potentially toxic — with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in accordance with what they say is a long-forgotten law that has been on the books since the 1970s.

Among the companies names as targets in the suit: Procter & Gamble, Church & Dwight Company, Reckitt Benckiser, and Colgate-Palmolive.

Conspicuously missing among the companies named: S.C. Johnson & Son, the maker of Windex, Glade, Drano and other household products. Nonetheless, the company announced last week that it would begin disclosing all ingredients for home cleaning and air care products sold in the United States.

“Today’s families want to know what’s in the household cleaning and air freshening products they use in their homes,” Jennifer A. Taylor, an S.C. Johnson spokeswoman, said. “Ingredient communication extends the company’s long history of doing what’s right for people and the planet.”

Concurrent with that announcement, S.C. Johnson, which has more than $8 billion in annual sales, said it is in the process of phasing out the use of DEP, a plasticizer found in fragrances and belonging to a class of chemicals known as phthalates, which have been linked to health risks in animals and possibly humans.

Although Procter & Gamble and Church & Dwight did not immediately respond to requests for comment, Colgate-Palmolive indicated that it embraced the Soap and Detergent Association’s voluntary “Consumer Product Ingredient Communication Initiative” that was announced last November.

That initiative calls for providing information on all ingredients except dyes, fragrances and preservatives and anything deemed “incidental” and having “no technical or functional effect in the product.”

Environmental advocates say the difference between what S.C. Johnson is doing and the industry plan is significant.

“Those three categories contain some of the cleaning ingredients that we’re most concerned about in terms of potential risks to human health,” said Sonya Lunder, a senior scientist with the Environmental Working Group. “We support what S.C. Johnson is doing and hope that more companies follow suit.”

Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the Soap and Detergent Association, said he could not speculate as to whether any individual companies would do so. As for the association’s views on the recent move by S.C. Johnson, one of its members, Mr. Sansoni said this in an e-mail message: “S.D.A. is certainly very pleased that our members continue to provide more information than ever before on the safety of cleaning products and their ingredients.”

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