laundry products lawsuit

Detergent Makers Forced to Come Clean

A lawsuit demands companies disclose their toxic ingredients; meanwhile, you can make your own.

Detergent Makers Forced to Come Clean

What have your clothes been rinsing in? It may take a lawsuit to find out.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—A group of environmental and health organizations is suing detergent and cleaning product companies in an effort to force companies into disclosing ingredients. Questionable ingredients that aren’t required to be listed on labels have been linked to asthma, allergies, hormone disruption, birth defects, and reproductive damage. The industry’s Soap and Detergent Association criticizes the move, saying they already unveiled a voluntary program that will give more information on ingredients. (Note that term, “voluntary.”)

THE DETAILS: Earthjustice filed the lawsuit against manufacturers Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, Church and Dwight, and Reckitt-Benckiser on Feb. 17. Some of the companies’ popular brands include Tide, Ajax, Resolve, Lysol, Brillo, Arm & Hammer, Orange Glo, Mr. Clean, Joy, Cascade, Swiffer, and Dawn, among others. The Earthjustice lawsuit was filed on behalf of Women’s Voices for the Earth, Environmental Advocates of New York, New York Public Interest Research Group, Riverkeeper, Sierra Club, and the American Lung Association in New York.

While there are virtually no U.S. laws requiring companies to label ingredients for consumers, the health and environmental advocates found a loophole in a little-known New York law that mandates household and commercial companies selling products in the state to file semiannual reports on what ingredients they use, and if their research indicates the products harm humans or damage the environment.

WHAT IT MEANS: Did you ever wonder if your everyday all-purpose glass, and bathroom cleaners or detergents contain monoethanolamine (MEA), glycol ethers, ammonium quaternary compounds, alkyl phenol ethoxylates (APES), or phthalates? Probably not, because these are ingredients you won’t find on the label. But they’re cleaning chemicals that have been linked to many ailments. Using these chemically choked products may not just be hurting us, but other creatures in the environment, too, particularly fish and amphibians. This New York lawsuit could have national implications, possibly erasing the shield that so many cleaning-product companies hide behind. That’s important, because we wash about 35 billion loads of laundry a year and do an awful lot of cleaning in this country.


Published on: March 3, 2009

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Detergent ingredients

It may be that detergent makers don't want to disclose the ingredients because doing so would allow other makers to steal their formulas.

A better approach might be to allow an independent research firm to determine if any detergents actually do cause harm.

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