By: Libby Grotewohl
Do you know what ingredients are in the cleaning products you use throughout your home? When asked that question, most of us would refer to the ingredient list on the product’s label. However, like most Americans, you may be surprised to find no ingredient list on nearly all cleaning product labels.
That’s because no federal or state law currently exists requiring the manufacturers of cleaning products to disclose product ingredients. Cleaning product manufacturers have skirted ingredient disclosure requirements by arguing for the protection of their coveted trade secrets. Nevertheless, as evidence surfaces indicating that the chemicals used in many cleaning products are potentially harmful to humans, many consumers and domestic workers who use these products everyday are demanding full disclosure. In response, Senator Ricardo Lara introduced Senate Bill 258, the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017, aimed at placing more stringent disclosure requirements on the manufacturers of cleaning products.
SB 258 would require cleaning product manufacturers to list all potentially hazardous chemicals existing in a product on the product’s label. By utilizing pictograms and directing consumers to the manufacturer’s website for more information, SB 258 is seen as a “critical first step” towards the betterment of human health and the environment. To protect trade secrets, manufacturers are not required to provide ingredient weight, however, they must utilize an ingredient’s Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) number and the proper ingredient name. SB 258 would require all employers to create and provide employees with Safety Data Sheets which will list pertinent information on all ingredients contained in any cleaning products used in the workplace.
Supporters of SB 258 – which include more than 80 environmental groups, labor unions, healthcare providers and “green” cleaning product manufacturers – argue consumers and domestic workers have a right to know what is in the cleaning products they use every day. With the emergence of “green” cleaning products that fully disclose ingredients, supporters argue that transparency will be necessary for manufacturers to remain relevant in the industry. As large manufacturers like Clorox have begun voluntarily disclosing ingredients on their websites, proponents assert that such disclosure requirements should be imposed on the manufacturers of all products that consumers and domestic workers encounter.
Those opposing SB 258 argue it takes the wrong approach. One notable argument is that the majority of consumers and domestic workers are not chemists. Thus, if most consumers and domestic workers have no knowledge of the chemicals listed, SB 258’s efforts may be futile. Or worse, they argue, for those who take the time to research the ingredients by visiting the manufacturer’s website, SB 258’s requirements may needlessly concern consumers and domestic workers of harms that the products do not in fact present. Further, by requiring manufacturers to invest in research, testing, and development to adequately disclose ingredients, the cost of cleaning products could potentially increase. By offering no alternative approach, opponents essentially argue that labeling will not bring about any change in the industry, and, thus, is not necessary.
Despite this opposition, SB 258 continues to push on and was just heard in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. As Senator Lara explains, “[w]e’ve all heard the expression that sunlight is the best disinfectant, and the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act will shine a light on the products families and workers use every day.”
To learn more about SB 258, check out my interview on “In Session,” a podcast from the University of the Pacific Law Review.
Libby Grotewohl is a staff writer for the University of the Pacific Law Review and law student student at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento.