5 Things to Know About California’s Cleaning Products Disclosure Bill

Many of the supplies we use to clean and freshen our homes and workplaces contain ingredients that could harm our health or the environment. Some products use ingredients that have been linked to accidental poisonings, asthma, skin allergies, reproductive impacts, birth defects and cancer.

California State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, introduced a bill on Wednesday to lift the veil of secrecy over potentially hazardous ingredients in cleaning products. It would require manufacturers of household and professional cleaning products – either sold or made in California – to disclose all ingredients on labels and online.

Here are five things you should know about the bill. 

1. It would give Californians the right to know about potentially harmful ingredients in cleaning products, helping them make informed decisions about the products they use in their homes and businesses. But its effect could reach well beyond California. Because the state’s market is so big, it’s likely that manufacturers would choose to label their products nationally, rather than incur the cost and bother of making one package for California and another for the rest of the U.S.

2. If passed in its current form, this would be the first state or national law known to require full ingredient disclosures for cleaning products. A federal cleaning products disclosure bill was introduced in Congress last year but didn’t make it out of committee for a full vote. No implemented regulations require manufacturers to completely reveal to consumers or workers what’s in their cleaning products. New York state passed a law, expected to go into effect sometime this year, to increase disclosure of ingredients in cleaning products. But instead of requiring ingredients to be listed on the label, the state will collect some information – the degree of which remains unannounced – in a central, searchable database.

3. Although some companies are beginning to voluntarily disclose many ingredients,  the bill will unify a patchwork of disclosure initiatives by manufacturers. Some companies, such as Seventh Generation and Dr. Bronner’s are models of transparency. But only about one in seven products EWG reviewed last year fully disclosed ingredients on the company website. Most still used vague terms like “fragrance” or “preservative.”

4. Manufacturers would not be able to hide ingredients behind “trade secret” claims. Manufacturers have protections to keep “trade secrets,” but these exemptions from disclosure don’t cover simple lists of ingredients. Thanks to modern analytical methods, companies can easily figure out what’s in a competitor’s product. Innovation can continue to flourish in tandem with ingredient disclosure, despite disingenuous industry arguments to the contrary.

5. Labeling could be a critical first step toward reformulating products to be safer. Some product makers will likely choose to reformulate their products, rather than disclose ingredients and contaminants that raise health concerns. Reformulations prompted in California may also impact products sold throughout the country.

Until the bill becomes law, EWG’s interactive Guide to Healthy Cleaning provides real-time hazard and ingredient information on more than 2,500 products to fill the transparency void, drive the market toward healthier products and empower consumers through education

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