Procter & Gamble Receives an “F” in Chemical Transparency
by Amanda Starbuck, 5/1/2015
“Eco-friendly.” “Healthy.” “Responsible.” These are just a few of the labels used on household cleaning products to make them appear safe for consumers. But no one oversees how these terms are used or what they really mean. This becomes readily apparent when you scrutinize the ingredients on cleaning product labels to try to determine how safe and "green" they really are. One company – Procter & Gamble – is so bad at disclosing useful chemical information to consumers that it recently received an "F" from a national environmental health group.
Companies are failing to disclose ingredients and are potentially putting their customers – especially women – at risk from toxic exposure.
In the average household, women still do more than 70 percent of housework, meaning they face greater exposure to chemicals in cleaning products than their male partners. And women can pass toxic chemicals they are exposed to onto their children during pregnancy and breastfeeding. So we need to be particularly careful of the products we buy and use.
Women’s Voices for the Earth graded four leading manufacturers of household cleaning products based on their disclosure of product ingredients and their processes for assessing chemical safety. Here are the results:
|The Clorox Company||SC Johnson & Son, Inc.||RB (formally Reckitt Benckiser)||Procter & Gamble|
|Sample Brands||Clorox®, Pine-sol®, Formual 409®||Pledge®, Windex®, Shout®||Lysol®, OLD ENGLISH®, EASY-OFF®||Tide®, Mr. Clean®, Febreze®|
Procter & Gamble received a failing grade. Three other companies (The Clorox Company, SC Johnson & Son, and RB) received average scores but still have substantial room for improvement. More details on the scoring are available in the group's full report.
Companies that make household cleaning products are not required by federal law to disclose their ingredients.
Most cleaning products lack ingredient labels like those found on food or cosmetics. Ingredient labels are essential for consumers with allergies or those looking to avoid certain harmful chemicals.
Companies are increasingly responding to consumer pressure to make product information available online. But many, including Procter & Gamble, still don't disclose the identity of chemical fragrances in their products. Furthermore, posting ingredients online (rather than on a product label) poses an unnecessary hurdle to accessing this information when shopping, and it doesn’t help people who lack Internet access.
None of the four companies are transparent about their toxic chemical screening processes.
In the absence of strong federal chemical safeguards, companies are often left to “self-regulate” and do their own chemical safety testing. Unfortunately, the four companies that Women's Voices examined are not being fully transparent about how they test the safety of their products.
None of the companies reveal the criteria used when screening chemicals for potential hazards. Because of this, consumers have no ability to compare screening processes among companies and no way to reward the ones that most stringently evaluate possible risks.
These companies still use chemicals of concern that are hazardous to women’s health.
Women’s Voices found several chemicals in cleaning products that scientific studies have identified as hazardous to women’s health. All four companies have made progress in removing some of these chemicals from their products. For example, none of them currently use phthalates, a class of chemicals that are potentially cancer-causing.
However, each company continues to use other hazardous chemicals, including ammonium quaternary compounds, a disinfectant which poses particular risks to pregnant women and developing fetuses.
Companies can and should take immediate steps to improve public access to information and to safeguard the health of their customers.
To improve disclosure and help their customers make informed choices about the products they use in their homes, companies can list specific ingredients on product labels, including each chemical that goes into product scents and fragrances. Companies can also provide information on their chemical screening processes and use safer chemicals in their products.
According to Women's Voices, annual sales of green cleaning products more than doubled between 2007 and 2011, so companies who do the right thing may also find their market shares increasing. Customers are eager to support companies that use non-toxic ingredients and make products that are better for our health and the environment.
Meaningful progress requires both company leadership and stronger federal chemical safeguards.
Alarmingly, our nation’s primary chemical safety law does not require companies or agencies to screen chemicals before they enter the marketplace. The Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 gave a free pass to over 60,000 chemicals that were already in wide use when the law was enacted. Today, over 84,000 chemicals are in commercial use yet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required testing for fewer than 300 chemicals and banned or restricted only nine.
Congress is currently working on revisions to the flawed law, but most of the current bills do little to advance chemical safety reform and would end up doing more harm than good by overriding state authority to restrict dangerous chemicals. We can and must do better.
In the meantime, you can take steps to reduce your risk from untested chemicals.
Women’s Voices for the Earth provides useful resources for avoiding toxic chemicals in cleaning supplies. These include results from independent laboratory testing of popular products and lists of companies that disclose all product ingredients. They even have recipes for making cleaning products at home using everyday ingredients.