Online Exclusives

Discourse on Disclosure

By Tom Branna, Editorial Director | January 6, 2017

Transparency impacts the cleaning industry.

Consumers and environmental groups want to know every ingredient in their food, their cosmetics and even their cleaning products. But do they understand the chemistry behind their favorite brands?

At the 10th annual Cleaning Products US conference, Patrick Elias, a toxicologist and member of Clorox’s global stewardship program, noted that few laws require ingredient disclosure for cleaning product formulas. Instead, the movement has been driven by non-government organizations including the Sierra Club and Women’s Voices of the Earth.

These groups, and others like them, have teamed up to enact change at the state level. For example, in 1976, New York passed a law requiring companies selling cleaning supplies in the state to file reports disclosing their products’chemical ingredients and any company research on health or environmental concerns. After passage, the law was never acted upon and largely forgotten until 2008, when Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of WVE, American Lung Association, Citizens’ Environmental Coalition, Environmental Advocates of New York, New York PIRG, River Keeper and Sierra Club.

Two years later, the suit was dismissed for lack of standing without ruling on its merits. In 2011, a Cleaning Product Right to Know bill (HR3457) was defeated.

More recently, in 2016, California Assembly Bill 708 required cleaning product manufacturers for retail sale in the state to disclose each ingredient contained in the product on the manufacturer’s website and provide the website and page address on the product label, along with a prescribed statement. The bill was defeated, but Elias warned other attempts might arise.

“Industry has been pivotal in making sure that consumers get the right information,” he said.

Elias noted that Clorox’s own ingredient disclosure program got underway in 2008 with the rollout of Greenworks disclosure. That was followed in 2011 with disclosure of preservatives and dyes and, most recently, in 2015, fragrance allergen disclosure. To help keep consumers on the go in the know, Clorox created an IngredientsInside app.

“As a toxicologist, I know the presence of an ingredient doesn’t mean that it is a bad thing,” he observed.

Clorox is committed to its disclosure program for several reasons, including explaining the role of each ingredient to consumers. But Elias warned that disclosure is not related to product safety.

Some of the most common consumer questions that Clorox gets include:
• Does it contain ingredients that I am allergic to?
• What’s the active? and
• Does it contain bleach?

These and other questions underscore the need to educate consumers, according to Elias, who noted that Walmart and other retailers report the same sort of queries from consumers.
“Natural does not mean safe,” he noted. “Not all chemicals are toxic.”

Shoppers have more information at their fingertips than ever before, but that doesn’t mean science-illiterate consumers will understand Paracelsus’ sage advice from centuries ago: “sola dosis facit venenum” or  “the dose makes the poison.”