According to the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) established in 1960 and since amended, house cleaning products are the only household products where manufacturers are not requried to list all ingredients. Certain ingredients, such as fragrances, which ironically are often made up of the most harmful chemicals, are considered trade secrets under the act and are considered protected information. This is important because a growing body of evidence associates the chemicals in common cleaning products with mild to severe health risks.
BUT THIS LABELING LOOPHOLE MAY CHANGE. Earthjustice, a legal firm representing six state and national environmental and health groups, plans to file a lawsuit to make some major manufacturers reveal the chemical ingredients of their cleaning products, and their research on their effects. The suit is based on New Yorks state’s Environmental Conservation Law, was passed in 1976 to combat the use of phosphates. Phosphates are naturally found in humans and plants, but chemical use of phosphates can create abnormal levels of phosphorous in the body or the environment with damaging results. The Environmental Conservation Law requires full ingredient disclosure and gives the Department of Environmental Conservation the authority to ban chemicals the agency finds harmful. The law has rarely been invoked in the past.
Proctor & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and two others would be named in the suit. The Soap and Detergent Assocation insists the makers’ products are used safely and effectively by "millions of people every day." This interest group represents 110 cleaning manufacturers. The plaintiffs include The Sierra Club and the American Lung Assocation.
Currently, consumers who want to find out what is in the cleaning products they use should use the Household Products Database to access the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for a particular product. The MSDS discloses most of the ingredients. The database also contains information and research related to various chemical ingredients. If the suit is successful, consumers would have an easier time understanding their exposure, or potential exposure, to harmful chemicals AND finding alternative house cleaning products to use.
The link for the Household Products Database is: