What's Inside: Clorox Shares a Little

By Rebecca Sutton, EWG Senior Scientist

Last week (Feb. 9), Clorox surprised me when it took a small step along the path to complete disclosure - and real consumer empowerment - by releasing a list of all the fragrance ingredients used in its products. What the company didn't disclose is which of these ingredients are in which products - a major obstacle for consumers trying to avoid specific substances.

Still, this is way more transparency than we've seen from any other major cleaning products manufacturer. Clorox deserves a pat on the back for the increased openness (you decide how small or big a pat), and so do consumers and advocates who have been pushing the issue of secret toxic ingredients onto the front burner. SC Johnson (maker of Windex and Pledge) has promised a similar list by January 2012.

My, that's a l-o-n-g list of chemicals My second surprise was just how long the list is. Clorox uses 1,219 different fragrance ingredients. That's fully 38.5 percent of all ingredients approved by the International Fragrance Association.

Clorox makes a lot of products with undoubtedly a lot of different scents, but I'm still shocked it works with over 1,000 distinct chemicals to make products like Formula 409 and its famous bleaches smell a little better. It makes me wonder just how many chemicals we're being exposing to every day when we clean and preen with run-of-the-mill fragranced body care products and cleaners like Pine-Sol, Green Works and Tilex. Yuck.

Any other surprises? Why, yes...

Clorox continues to use toxic fragrance chemicals The company no longer mentions polycyclic musks on the list of chemicals it never uses because the company - unfortunately - reneged on its promise to phase them out. Its just-released list of fragrance ingredients includes two of them, Galaxolide and Tonalide. Both have been linked to hormone disruption and breaking down cellular defenses against other toxic exposures. Research has also shown that these chemicals accumulate in people's bodies and turn up in blood and breast milk.

A third musk compound with potential for hormone disruption and cell damage is also on Clorox's list of approved fragrance ingredients: musk ketone. High blood levels of musk ketone in women may be associated with gynecological abnormalities, including mild insufficiency of the ovaries and compromised fertility.

The Clorox fragrance list includes a few other troubling ingredients:

  • Acetaldehyde - a possible human carcinogen, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Oxybenzone - a hormone-disrupting chemical commonly used in sunscreens that has been detected in the bodies of 97 percent of Americans and is linked to low birth weight in baby girls
  • Phenol and Benzyl Alcohol - both neurotoxins
  • Triethanolamine - a chemical that can cause asthma to develop in otherwise healthy individuals.

What next? All the same, I have to congratulate Clorox for opening the books on its fragrance chemicals - for years the nine letters in the word "fragrance" have covered up a whole lot of toxic chemicals.

This is good news, to be sure. But it should by no means be the end of the line. EWG would like to see these chemicals identified on specific products - right on the product label - so consumers can tell what they're buying. The more we know, the better. Ditching the musks would be a smart move, too. With more than a thousand different chemicals in the mix, surely losing a few of the most toxic is doable.

And how about offering a few more fragrance-free options? It's pretty clear that fragrance-free cleaning and preening is loads better than exposing yourself and your family to toxic chemicals.

EWG's recommendation for shoppers? Clorox just gave us 1,219 more reasons to buy fragrance-free cleaning and beauty products. You can search for some of them right here.

[Thanks to Fickr CC & Clorox Toilet Product for the sparking clean pic]

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