Sunday, December 5, 2010

Congratulations to Earth Justice and All

An Important Breakthrough - Cleaning Product Manufacturers Are Forced to Reveal Ingredients

You are perhaps not aware that a ruling was made in the lawsuit that was filed at the beginning of 2009. Earth Justice, a non-profit law firm, filed a suit in the State of New York on the behalf of the Sierra Club, Women's Voice For the Earth, American  Lung Association in New York, Riverkeep, and Environmental Advocates of New York to get 4 major cleaning product manufacturers to provide ingredient list for the products they sell.  New York is the only state having such a law.  Until recently, very few companies provided any product lists of any meaning.  

Since nothing concerning the progress of the lawsuit could be found over the Internet, I contacted Earthjustice, the Sierra Club and the Women's Voices for the Earth to see if an update was available.   All three e-mailed back and all three had different responses.   The person who wrote back from the Sierra club was not aware of the lawsuit I had referred to, Earthjustice said they had a "wonderful victory" and Women's Voices for the Earth stated, "The lawsuit was dismissed for lack of standing, but the NY Department of Environmental Conservation has decided to implement the law."

Looking over the press release put out by Earthjustice, the following is what seemed to have happened.  A hearing was held in September and the judge presiding over the case came out with a very tentative decision.   He basically said he couldn't judge on the merits of the lawsuit and suggested the defendants (cleaning products producers) had to get together with the plaintiffs (environmental and health groups) and work out a compromise.   Which, at the time didn't seem like much of a victory at all.   The meeting between the plaintiffs and defendants was held in October.   Sometime during this period, health and environmental groups got New York's Department of Environmental Conservation to enforce disclosure for products offered in New York.   As a result, for the first time on P&G's home page, we can now find relatively complete ingredient lists for products such as Tide detergent.   I found them this morning and took a quick look.  Did you know Tide comes in 48 different formulations?  
While I haven't checked yet, I'm sure the other 3 defendants, Colgate-Palmolive, Church and Dwight,  and Reckitt-Benckiser have or will soon have ingredient information posted as well.  Either that or they'll have to stop selling their products in New York.

The Significance of the Ruling, As I See It

Perhaps now that companies are declaring which surfactant they actually employ in detergent formulas, environmental groups and consumers can check these ingredients more carefully and begin to express concerns in a louder and more united voice.    Since surfactants represent the biggest eco-toxin produced in the largest amount, environmental groups and consumers have to rally on getting the detergent makers to stop including this chemical compound in their formulation.    Detergent companies know how to do this, they are just not willing to do so. 
Environmental groups should come together and concentrate their efforts on eliminating the use of the three biggest surfactants, LAS, AE and AS in one single product - laundry detergent, and  not allow the use of any other type of surfactant until detergent makers can clearly demonstrate these substitutes are truly safe (which is impossible).  For any proposed substitute ingredient(s), they must be required to demonstrate its safety for both aquatic life and human health.   
Currently, most consumers and environmental groups are using a shotgun approach in attacking a myriad of different cleaning products and a myriad of dangerous substances like "artificial fragrances", phthalates", "endocrine disruptors", "bleaches" and so on.   A less complicated and easier way would be to start with the biggest pollution threat and work your way down the list.  As emphasized many times before in this blog, surfactants are the biggest eco-toxins by far, produced in much larger quantities than any other single pollutant and dumped in  unsustainable huge amounts into our waters.    Start with the one ingredient  no cleaning product company wants to talk about, start with surfactants. 
If we can get the detergent manufacturers to stop using surfactants, producers of other cleaning and personal care products will have to follow the lead and, they will begin to spend R&D on truly safer formulations because they will understand that consumers finally understand and can't be fooled any longer.    Remember what our grandparents always taught us?  "You can fool some of the people all the time...." You remember the rest.   Let's prove this saying is still true.   After 60 years of fooling us all, it is time detergent producers are made to tell us the truth.  It is time for the environmental groups to come together and focus first on the chemical compound that has done the most damage to our health and the environment.  It is time to get rid of surfactants in our household laundry detergents. 

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