Traditionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has not allowed manufacturers of disinfectants and sanitizers to make valid claims of environmental preferability on the package labels. The reason is that disinfectants are, by definition, pesticides since disinfectants kill germs. Pesticides are effectively poisons. In fact, there are currently no green cleaning certifications allowable for disinfectants for this reason.
Yet the EPA is considering allowing supliers to make factual claims of environmental preferability and is expected to make recommendations on green claims at the April 22 – 23 meeting of the EPA’s Pesticide Policy Dialogue Committee, according to the industry “publication” Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online. The move signals a turning point in the market for green house cleaning products and services and that’s why I’m blogging about this today. Whether science has evolved to the point where effective, eco-friendly disinfectant formulas are possible, or demand for these types of products has increased, or a combination of both has catalyzed the EPA’s leanings are unclear.
EPA is currently defining the parameters of qualification for products to carry eco-friendly claims on their labels in conjunction with the agency’s Design for the Environment initiative.
This is all well and good but I have my eyebrow up about the word “valid”. We’ve seen so much green washing lately (false or exaggerated claims about a product’s environmental or health benefits) and I don’t expect that disinfectants will be any different. While I am concerned about the environment to a great degree, I am more concerned with your health and the health of our maids. If something is truly better for the environment then it is likely a healthier choice than the other products on a grocery shelf and the reverse is also true – if something is healthier for humans and pets, then it’s likely a better choice for enviromental stewardship too. But just saying so doesn’t make it so.
Reading package labels for the ingredients in a house cleaning product, such as a disinfectant or a glass cleaner, won’t give you enough information to decide for yourself whether a product is safe and whether the claim is valid. Also, claims aren’t necessarily full disclosure. (See my post on Sept 2, 2008 where I talk about Simple Green. The stuff is non-toxic and it IS biodegradable but just because it won’t kill you doesn’t mean it can’t do you harm!)
So, do your own homework. Search online for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) for house cleaning products you use or are considering using. Find out what the ingredients are and then search online to see whether those ingredients are associated with any health risks. I can’t say enough about the Household Products Database – a great tool to help you research the safety of your cleaning products, as well as other household products you may be using on a weekly or daily basis.
As developments unfold with this disinfectants story, we’ll keep you posted.