Right to Know Act- Dirty Chemicals in Our Cleaning ProductsBy Pearl McLeod
New Law Calls for Disclosure of All Hazardous Chemicals in Cleaning Products
Cancer, asthma, and chemical burns should not have to be side effects of your job. That’s why when it comes to consumer and worker health, CEH has always been a champion for product safety. After many months of grassroots pressure, and advocacy groups convinced California Governor Jerry Brown to sign a new law that would help keep dangerous chemicals out of cleaning products.
The groundbreaking Right to Know Act (SB 258) lifts the veil of secrecy for cleaning products in California. The legislation by California State Senator Ricardo Lara provides consumers and workers the right to know about chemicals they are exposed to from these products. Under this law, companies are required to disclose detailed ingredient information including (for the first time ever!) fragrance chemicals on any cleaning products sold in the state.
Partnering with the co-sponsors, business allies, and domestic workers, CEH helped win this fight, requiring disclosure of all hazardous ingredients – at any level. Until this law, companies were not required to disclose the ingredients they use in cleaning products, allowing them to hide potentially toxic chemicals from consumers. Essentially this bill eliminates this trade secrets provision for hazardous chemicals. No more hiding!
Health is on the line
Domestic workers have long been fighting for better work conditions, including organizing against wage theft and, most recently, advocating for safer cleaning products and clearer labeling of hazards. Janitorial and domestic workers have reported using products that caused breathing problems, nose bleeds, headaches, and skin irritation. Without ingredient lists or clearly marked health warnings, workers faced challenges in being able to clearly point to the products responsible for their illnesses and advocate for their own health.
In response to these ongoing health concerns, domestic workers leaders of IDESPCA (Instituto Popular del Sur de California) and the California Domestic Worker Coalition spoke out and fought for the creation and passage of the Right to Know Act. Not only will the bill help workers, domestic work employers, and consumers make safer choices by disclosing the ingredients, but the ingredients themselves are likely to become safer. CEH’s extensive legal work under Prop 65 has demonstrated that companies most often choose to make safer products instead of having to warn that their product contains a cancer causing chemical.
Good for consumers, workers, the environment…and business!
You may not be surprised to learn that the bill was supported by domestic workers, work safety groups, women’s health advocates, environmental justice groups, and public health groups. But it may surprise you to learn that another constituency also stood behind the bill: business.
A group of forward thinking business leaders called Companies for Safer Chemicals have supported the bill and its goal of improving transparency in the market. Many of these companies, like Beautycounter, Dr Bronner’s, Earth Friendly Products, The Honest Company, Makes 3 and Seventh Generation already disclose the ingredients in their products. Their success has demonstrated that consumers will buy from businesses that stand up for their customers’ right-to-know about the chemicals in the products they buy.
As a partner with green business leaders, CEH knows that these innovative businesses can be instrumental in showing legislators that California will continue to be a leader, by creating the incentives to develop safer, healthier products and a more sustainable green economy.
One Step Forward
Senator Lara’s SB 258 will serve as the beginning of the fight ahead to ensure that all Californians, including limited English speaking communities, have access to information they need to understand warning labels as well as gain access to safer alternatives. Along with transparency, problems of affordability and physical availability have prevented workers from being able to purchase safer products. We also want to ensure older, potentially more toxic products are not dumped into discount stores as newer, healthier, labeled products come to market. CEH will continue to partner with our social justice allies to address these issues too.
The success of this bill shows what we all know to be true: we have a right-to-know about the ingredients in the products we buy. And even more, we have a right to safe products, without the risks of cancer or asthma related toxic ingredients!