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Ingredient labeling for household products

Cleaning your home could aggravate your child’s asthma, and not just because of dust getting into the air. Several ingredients used in many household cleaners are associated with health problems such as allergies, asthma, and reproductive and developmental effects, yet the labels do not disclose that these chemicals are present. Some ingredients, specifically those considered “hormone disrupters”, are also believed to disrupt the reproductive systems of fish, birds and mammals when they get into the water supply and then spill into rivers and lakes. Environmental groups and scientists worry that with the contamination of our water supply, humans will be affected in a similar way.

What is being done about this?

Several environmental groups took on this issue last spring. Earth Justice took four large companies that manufacture household cleaners to court in New York for failing to comply with a law that requires them to report the ingredients in their products to the state. Since the law was passed over 30 years ago, it has largely been forgotten. Earth Justice, representing six groups including the Sierra Club and Women’s Voices for the Earth, hoped to remind companies and lawmakers of the law, with the hope of spurring a national change in these right-to-know laws.

Earth Justice’s desire to bring the issue to the awareness of the nation succeeded, because on September 23, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) introduced the Household Product Labeling Act. The bill requires household cleaners to bear labels disclosing all of their ingredients. The bill is currently in committee. There is a similar bill currently in committee in the House.

How to detect and avoid unsafe cleaners and chemicals:

The US Department of Health and Human Services has a household products database where you can look up products, common ingredients and health effects. Women’s Voices for the Earth published the Household Hazards Report with information on ingredients that are most commonly associated with health problems and the products they are used in.

Until companies are required to include all ingredients in their product labels, using natural products is a safe alternative. Check out Delicious Living’s articles on green cleaning, Better Cleansers, Come Clean and Green Cleaning Guide. Greener Choices also has a list of natural ingredients and natural recipes for cleaners, as well as tips for buying green household products. Remember that cleaning products are not the only potential toxins in your home. Read up on detoxing your home from your yard to your fridge.

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