Lawsuit Seeks Ingredient Disclosure from Tide, Palmolive, Other Major Cleaners

Lawsuit Seeks Ingredient Disclosure from Tide, Palmolive, Other Major Cleaners

New York-based and national groups have filed a lawsuit to make some of the biggest names in cleaning disclose the ingredients in their products.

The six-group coalition behind the lawsuit had contacted more than a dozen companies in September last year, informing them of a New York law from the 1970s that requires companies selling cleaning products in the state to file semi-annual reports listing the chemicals in products and any company research into the health effects of ingredients. However, no reports were ever filed in relation to the law.

The lawsuit targets Procter & Gamble (maker of Tide, Mr. Clean, Joy, Downy), Colgate-Palmolive (Ajax, Palmolive, Murphy Oil Soap), Church & Dwight Co. (Arm & Hammer, Kaboom, OxiClean) and Reckitt Benckiser Group (Woolite, Spray 'n Wash, Lysol).

The groups had asked those companies and others to comply with the law and file ingredient lists within 30 days. Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive, and Church & Dwight Co. refused to comply with the coalition's request; Reckitt Benckiser Group did not respond to it.

Public interest law firm Earthjustice filed the lawsuit 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.

The Soap and Detergent Association, which represents more than 100 cleaning product companies, said that the coalition is misinterpreting the law, instead saying that the law gives New York the option of requiring ingredient disclosure. The Soap and Detergent Association also responded to the call for disclosure by pointing out than an industry-created voluntary chemical disclosure program was announced last November.

The voluntary program, the Consumer Product Ingredient Communication Initiative, does not go into effect until 2010, and companies taking part in it can make ingredient lists accessible on product labels, on websites, through a toll-free telephone number, or through some other non-electronic means. It also allows companies to withhold the chemical makeup of fragrances, dyes and preservatives.
In practically all cases, fragrances, dyes and preservatives are listed only as "fragrances," "dyes" or "preservatives" because specifics of those ingredients are proprietary information.

Some companies complied with the coalition's request, including Method, Seventh Generation and Sunshine Makers, the company that makes Simple Green products. Earthjustice is providing Simple Green's ingredient disclosure list (PDF), which also lists what percentages of ingredients are used.

Method and Seventh Generation also list product ingredients, or have links to ingredient lists, prominently with the products on their websites.

The Clorox Company has also started listing ingredients in a "Product Ingredient Listings" section in the "Our Products" area of its corporate website, www.TheCloroxCompany.com. However, those same ingredient lists are not found with products listed on consumer-facing sites like www.Clorox.com.

Even in cases where consumer-focused site list ingredients, they don't match up with what's in the "Product Ingredient Listings" section. On the Formula 409 site, for example, it says the Formula 409 Antibacterial All-Purpose Cleaner "contains nonionic and cationic surfactants, solvents and dye." The product's ingredient list goes further than that, listing specific ingredients.

In Clorox's lists, ingredients that make up 1 percent or more of a product by weight are listed in descending order, and ingredients that make up less than 1 percent are listed in alphabetical order, although the lists do not indicate which products make up less than one percent. Clorox plans to list ingredients for all of its household and industrial cleaning, disinfesting and auto care products sold in the U.S. and Canada by the end of this year.

Tide detergent photo - CC license by Barkdog