Environmental and Health Groups Face Off Against Household Cleaner Giants in Court

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Kathleen Sutcliffe, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 235

Environmental and Health Groups Face Off Against Household Cleaner Giants in Court

National toxics reform movement grows, even as companies refuse to follow existing law

NEW YORK - Public health and environmental advocates faced off against
household cleaning giants Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive,
Church and Dwight and Reckitt-Benckiser in a Manhattan court today in a
fight for transparency about the toxic chemicals in cleaning products.

The manufacturing giants are refusing to follow a New York state law
requiring them to disclose the chemical ingredients in their products
and the health risks they pose. Independent studies show a link between
many chemicals commonly found in cleaning products and health effects
ranging from nerve damage to hormone disruption. With mounting concern
about the potential hazards of chemicals in these products, advocates
are defending consumers' right to know and asking companies to follow
the law.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," said Earthjustice attorney Keri
Powell. "It's time for these companies to stop hiding behind a veil of
secrecy and give consumers the information they need to protect
themselves and their families."

The first-of-its-kind lawsuit
could have national implications and comes as momentum builds
nationally and internationally for toxics chemical reform. Today, the
United States Senate committee on Environment and Public Works held a
hearing looking into the current science on public exposures to toxic
chemicals. Advocates are awaiting introduction of federal legislation
to reform the nation's badly broken system of regulating toxic
chemicals. And internationally, companies are preparing to comply with
Europe's new chemical regulations (known as REACH).

"The bottom line is that hazardous ingredients that have not been
tested for long-term health impacts, like asthma or even birth defects,
are being used in some cleaning products," said Erin Switalski,
executive director of Women's Voices for the Earth. "Consumers have a
right to know if they are spraying their kids' high chairs with toxic
chemicals. Without full ingredient disclosure from these companies,
there's simply no way to be sure."

The nonprofit public interest law firm Earthjustice brought the
court case last year on behalf of a coalition of state and national
groups, including Women's Voices for the Earth, Environmental Advocates
of New York, New York Public Interest Research Group, Clean New York,
Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and American Lung Association in New York.

"Manufacturers of household cleaning products have a responsibility
to inform consumers and state regulators about chemicals in their
products that may endanger human health or the environment," said Laura
Haight, senior environmental associate with NYPIRG. "This is not only
common sense; here in New York, it's the law."

Cleaning product manufacturers are taking notice of the changing
climate toward toxics in products. In response to a letter sent by the
groups involved in the court case, several companies, including the
California-based Sunshine Makers, Inc. (manufacturers of Simple Green
products), filed reports
with the state for the first time. And three weeks after the disclosure
lawsuit was filed, household cleaner manufacturing giant SC Johnson announced that it would begin disclosing the chemical ingredients in its products through product labels and a website.

"Sierra Club is working through the courts and with the industry on
efforts to fill in the gaps where the public still doesn't have the
information it needs to make smart consumer decisions," said Tom
Neltner, co-Chair of Sierra Club's Toxics Committee. "This New York law
can protect consumers by allowing a government agency such as the New
York Department of Environmental Conservation to review confidential
business information."

Ingredient disclosure requirements are virtually non-existent in the
United States. The exception is a long-forgotten New York state law
which requires household and commercial cleaner companies selling their
products in New York to file semi-annual reports with the state listing
the chemicals contained in their products and describing any company
research on these chemicals' health and environmental effects. But in
the three decades since the 1976 law was passed, companies failed to
file a single report.

"Information is the best armor we have to protect our families from
everyday hazards. And New York State already has a law on the books
requiring companies to report the toxic chemicals that go into their
products. The law needs to be enforced," said Saima Anjam,
Environmental Advocates of New York.

Studies show links between chemicals in common household cleaners
and respiratory irritation, asthma, and allergies. Occupational
exposures to some ethylene glycol ethers, often used as solvents in
cleaning products, are associated with red blood cell damage,
reproductive system damage, and birth defects. Some solvents in
cleaning products are also toxic to the nervous system.

"Even today, women are still overwhelmingly doing the majority of
cleaning, both in the home and as housekeeping staff in most
workplaces. Since a woman's body is everyone's first environment, it's
essential we protect them from chemicals known to cause reproductive
harm, and New York should fully exercise its statutory right to do so,"
said Kathy Curtis, policy director from Clean New York.

Reference Documents

Read the lawsuit (PDF)

Read the brands targeted in the lawsuit (PDF)

Read the Women's Voices for the Earth report (PDF)

Read the disclosure report filed by Sunshine Makers, Inc. (PDF)

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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