Consumers would be able to compare not only the ingredients, but also the potential health dangers of household cleaning products under regulations proposed by New York state regulators.
Under draft regulations sent by the state Department of Environmental Conservation to environmental and industry groups for comment, manufacturers would have to disclose the chemical makeup of laundry detergents and other cleaning products. They also would have to tell whether each ingredient has been shown to cause asthma, cancer, reproductive problems, birth defects, skin irritation, eye damage or ozone depletion.
Deborah Goldberg of Earthjustice called the proposed regulations "groundbreaking."
"This is the first time I've ever seen any government agency require that industry connect the dots between what's in their products and what they can do to you," Goldberg said Wednesday. "That's really the information people need."
The DEC sent the proposal in December to stakeholder groups, which submitted comments this week.
A coalition of 42 public interest groups including Earthjustice urged the agency to require that the product information be made available to the public on a website that would allow consumers to comparison shop.
"We want to see user friendly, web-based, one-stop shopping," Goldberg said. "So people can compare products without going to six different manufacturers' web sites to find ingredients and then look them up on a variety of health agency sites here and abroad."
The agency's proposal doesn't address whether the disclosure would be made on a central website, manufacturer websites or product labels, or by other means. That will be discussed at a future meeting between the DEC, industry representatives and consumer groups.
Michael Bopp, a spokesman for the DEC, said the regulatory proposal is in draft form and subject to change.
"Although DEC's regulations allow us to ask for disclosure by manufacturers of the effects on human health and the environment of such products, DEC is still reviewing comments received, including those that question the need for such disclosure," Bopp said.
The American Cleaning Institute said manufacturers have begun to participate in a voluntary industry initiative to disclose ingredient information to consumers.
"New York state's plans to implement a 35-year-old law on cleaning product ingredient disclosure is unnecessary, unworkable and would further strain scarce taxpayer resources," the industry group said.
The DEC began working on regulations after Earthjustice sued, unsuccessfully, to force the state to enforce a 1976 law requiring manufacturers to reveal the ingredients of household products and the health risks they pose. The agency has said that law allows it to collect the information but does not require it.
Dennis Griesing of the American Cleaning Institute said the DEC is expected to have proposed regulations ready for public comment around May 1, a month after meeting with stakeholders to refine its proposal.