Regulators Push for Disclosure on Household Cleaner Ingredients

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Regulators in Albany have advanced a plan unpopular with some large corporations that would require manufacturers of common household cleaners like floor polish and dish soap to disclose the products’ ingredients.

For months, the Department of Environmental Conservation has been consulting quietly with the cleaning industry and environmental groups about making new rules. But this week, the DEC's draft plan was made public. It shows regulators want specific information about the chemicals used in cleaning products and possible links to cancer, asthma, and birth defects.

The effort amounts to an expansion of the department's responsibilities, even as state agencies trim budgets and staff.

The cleaning industry said it's already well regulated by the federal government, and many manufacturers provide ingredient information on their websites.

"The state ought to consider not undertaking this effort given the fiscal conditions of the state right now and let the voluntary programs of the companies provide the information that is intended," said Dennis Griesing, Vice President of Government Affairs at the American Cleaning Institute, an industry group.

ACI said Americans spend $30 billion a year on detergent, sprays and other cleaners.

Environmental groups see the matter differently. A few years ago, a lawyer with the group Earthjustice discovered a 35 year-old law empowering the DEC to require disclosure of cleaning products. Earthjustice sued to force Colgate-Palmolive, Church & Dwight and other manufacturers to share ingredient information. Earthjustice lost the suit, but the DEC began to consider how it could enforce this law, passed under former Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

Earthjustice this week praised the DEC for moving the process ahead, but said it needs to go further. For example, Earthjustice said the state should demand unique CAS (Chemical Abstracts Service) numbers for all ingredients.

A review process involving public feedback is expected to begin in the spring.

By requiring disclosure of chemicals, New York would effectively set a new nationwide standard. However, it’s not clear how accessible to the public regulators intend to make the information.

Read the Department of Environmental Conservation’s Draft Proposal for Household Cleansing Product Disclosure.

Read the comments from Earthjustice and 41 other environmental groups.

Read the comments from the American Cleaning Institute, a trade group.

Read comments from the Consumer Specialty Products Association, a trade group.