At long last, the veil of secrecy over chemicals in cleaning products is lifting. In October, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017, which will require known hazardous chemicals in home and commercial cleaning products to be listed on labels and online.
Manufacturers of cleaning products have until 2020 to disclose ingredients online and until 2021 to list them on labels. But the impact of the new rules could be felt sooner, and well beyond California. The nation's most populous state is also the biggest market for consumer products, and it's likely that the new disclosure rules will trickle down to products manufactured, distributed and sold nationwide. (New York also has a cleaners ingredient disclosure law, but its specific rules are still being worked out.)
EWG was a co-sponsor of the bill, authored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens. Here are four reasons we're celebrating the fact that Californians will soon have unprecedented access to detailed chemical information for cleaning and disinfecting products used in the home and workplace.
1. Rather than disclosing chemicals of concern, manufacturers may decide to take them out of products.
Transparency often begets reformulation. In 2009, the California Safe Cosmetics Program began requiring companies to report carcinogens and reproductive toxicants in their products. By 2015, more than 150 companies reported removing a total of 2,193 ingredients. Cleaning product makers may take the same path, knowing that once ingredients are known, consumers can make educated decisions to avoid them and choose better options.
2. Disclosure is mandatory for ingredients linked to chronic diseases and conditions, not simply immediate dangers.
Previously, only some ingredients, such as those associated with acute hazards like skin or eye burns, physical hazards like flammability, or active ingredients in disinfectants or sanitizers, were required to be listed on package labels. Now, substances linked to longer-term problems like DNA damage, birth defects, endocrine disruption, neurotoxicity and respiratory impacts will have to be disclosed.
3. For the first time ever in the U.S., manufacturers will have to disclose more of their fragrance ingredients.
The vague term “fragrance” may hide the identity of dozens of chemicals in a complex mixture in a single product. But fragrance chemicals can trigger asthma and allergic reactions. Some are linked to cancer, like acetaldehyde, or can form carcinogenic secondary pollutants, like formaldehyde, when they mix with air. Some manufacturers have begun voluntarily disclosing fragrance ingredients, but many more have not. Under the new law, companies will have to list more of their fragrance ingredients, including the 26 allergenic components required in Europe.
4. Impurities will be under greater scrutiny.
The new law identifies 34 “non-functional constituents” that must be revealed online. These are substances present in small amounts that are not intentionally added, serve no technical purpose in the finished product or are not stripped out. They could be contaminants introduced from raw materials or processing equipment, breakdown products of an ingredient or a byproduct of the manufacturing process. The list includes hormone-disrupting phthalates, carcinogens such as benzene and nitrosamines, and the likely carcinogen 1,4-dioxane.
While we wait for the bill to start taking effect, EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning highlights products that help reduce exposure to known fragrance allergens and other hazardous ingredients and impurities.