Ever wondered if cleaning products are making you or your staff sick? A pace-setting California law will help you find out

by Brianna Crandall — October 27, 2017 — California Governor Jerry Brown recently signed the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017, authored by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens). The legislation is said to make California the first state to require ingredient labeling both on product labels and online for cleaning products used by millions of consumers and workers.

Unlike retail cosmetics or packaged food, no federal requirements exist for disclosing ingredients in cleaning products, which means this law will raise a new high bar for cleaning product ingredient disclosure not just in California but across the nation. Senator Ricardo Lara points out that domestic workers and custodial staff exposed to cleaning products at work all day will be able to advocate for safer alternatives.

The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act will require known hazardous chemicals in cleaning products to be listed on both product labels and online. Chemicals found in cleaning products have been shown to cause cancer, birth defects, asthma and other serious health effects, and ingredient labeling responds to consumers’ demand for transparency, says the senator.

Senator Lara stated:

People around the country and especially Californians are demanding more disclosure about the chemicals in products we use. The science is clear, and we have seen the data about how cleaning product chemicals affect parents, children, people with pre-existing conditions, and workers who use these products all day, every day. The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act is going to clear the air for shoppers and workers about products they use every day.

Senator Lara was inspired to bring the legislation by stories from his mother, a former domestic worker. The senator recounts:

After a day of scrubbing toilets my mother would be dizzy and sick, but she never knew if it was the product she was using. Many of the people who are cleaning our schools, our offices, and our homes are going back to tell their families stories about being sick at work. Senate Bill 258 will help them advocate for safer products.

Environmental health advocates and industry representatives met for more than six months to reach a compromise that gives consumers and workers ingredient information about known chemicals of concern while ensuring that businesses are able to protect valid proprietary information for other chemicals.

Stakeholders point out that the law requires that hazardous ingredients must be disclosed even if they are part of a recipe that is considered to be a trade secret, which breaks new ground.

Supporters also point out the importance of cleaning product users knowing what is in the products they use whether they are professional cleaners — especially pregnant women — who use the products every day and want to limit unhealthy exposure, cancer survivors who have been told to avoid certain chemicals, parents of children with allergies, or anyone who is looking to reduce their exposures to harmful chemicals and protect their health.

In a separate statement, the Natural Resources Defense Council cited these statistics when explaining why the labels are needed:

  • According to the California Department of Public Health, about 10 percent of all work-related asthma cases are associated with cleaning products.
  • A study co-authored by New York State Department of Health scientists found that children born to women who held cleaning jobs while pregnant have an elevated risk of birth defects.
  • The US EPA notes that about six percent of janitors experience a job-related injury from chemical exposures to cleaning products every year.

The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act is co-sponsored by public health and environmental health advocates Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Environmental Working Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Women’s Voices for the Earth.

Leading manufacturers of cleaning products also embraced the legislation, including California-based Honest Company and WD-40, Seventh Generation, Procter & Gamble, SC Johnson, Reckitt Benckiser, Unilever, Eco Lab, fragrance maker Givaudan, and the Consumer Specialty Products Association, the trade association representing major manufacturers.

The Cleaning Product Right to Know Act will require online ingredient listing by January 1, 2020, and on-package disclosure by January 1, 2021, to give manufacturers time to reformulate their products and remove harmful chemicals.

See Senator Lara’s announcement for a full list of supporting groups, and see the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act of 2017 page to find out more about the legislation.