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Franken bill would require ingredient labeling for household cleansers

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has introduced legislation that would allow consumers to see what is in household cleaning products.

Similar to food and many beauty products, Senate Bill 1697, the Household Product Labeling Act, would require manufacturers to fully disclose all ingredients on their product labels. The proposed mandate comes on the heels of recent reports that some chemicals in cleaning products are suspected of causing long-term harm to human health, wildlife and the environment. Household cleansers currently label warnings designed to prevent immediate harm if swallowed, but do not typically list chemical ingredients.

“Senator Franken’s legislation is a very important step in the effort to protect the public from chemicals linked to serious health problems,” said Alex Formuzis, director of communications for Environmental Working Group. “Consumers have the right to know what chemicals are ingredients in the products they use to clean their homes.”

A number of consumer advocate groups have voiced concerns about chemicals, including phthalates, glycol ethers and monoethanolamine, which are in many cleaning products to add fragrance or remove grease. Many believe the products cause environmental and health problems when they build up in the nation’s waterways. Such chemicals also are suspected of causing or aggravating asthma.

A 2007 report by the organization Women’s Voices for the Earth claimed that certain chemicals in cleaning products have been linked to increased rates of asthma, reproductive problems and developmental delays. According to the report, some of the chemicals are present in Pine Sol, 409, Tide, Gain and Cheer, to name a few.

In addition to the Women’s Voices for the Earth report, Formuzis said there as a “growing mountain of independent studies linking these and other chemicals to health risks on the rise in the United States.”

The larger question, however, is whether the government provides enough regulation of the thousands of chemicals currently in use. Formuzis said it does not.

“Under the failed federal toxics law, over 80,000 chemicals have been allowed into commerce with little or no safety tests,” he said. “In fact, in the 33 years since President Ford signed the Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA has only banned or restricted five chemicals.”

According to the Soap and Detergent Association in Washington, D.C., many of the chemicals causing concern exist in very small quantities. The association’s Web site also claims that “product manufacturers employ chemists, toxicologists and environmental safety assessors who oversee the selection of ingredients. They also provide advice on the safety of formulated products and direct the evaluation of finished products to assure safety before they are sold.”

The Soap and Detergent Association is implementing a voluntary system, in which producers will have the choice of posting ingredients, or directing consumers to Web sites, or toll-free numbers. An SDA representative was not immediately available to comment for this report.

Formuzis said regular contact with toxic chemicals over a lifetime at any dose is cause for concern. He added that a voluntary system is not the best approach.

“Many simply wouldn’t abide,” he said. “These aren't widgets. They are products that include toxins linked to a number of serious health risks, including developmental and reproductive problems as well as certain types of cancer, all on the rise in the U.S. and the only way to protect families is to require companies to disclose.”

Franken has said he is not in favor of a voluntary system. Similar legislation in the House is being sponsored by Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat.

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