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NY Coming Closer to Cleaning up Toxins Under the Sink?

March 3, 2011

NEW YORK - It's been like scrubbing stubborn stains with steel wool, but an ongoing effort to force disclosure of what's in some widely used household cleaners - and how those ingredients might harm consumers - finally has reached a stage described as "groundbreaking."

Disclosure rules have been on the books in New York for decades, but not enforced. Advocates have submitted comments to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on new enforcement plans, and are applauding the state's progress. Earthjustice attorney Deborah Goldberg, who helped lead the effort, says people should have a right to know what dangers lurk under the sink or in the cleaning closet.

"Everybody knows, don't let your children drink them. But they don't realize that in some cases, inhaling them can be even more dangerous."

Manufacturers, some of whom also submitted comments to the DEC, say their products are safe and their voluntary disclosures are adequate. Goldberg says studies have linked cleaning chemicals to asthma, nerve damage and hormonal disruption.

Some manufacturers voluntarily post ingredients on web sites, but Goldberg says that without any centralized system it's nearly impossible for consumers to be fully informed.

"The industry has been arguing that it's doing voluntary disclosure, but it is not doing anything close to what DEC is asking for. And the most important thing DEC is doing is connecting the dots between what is in the product and what the potential health impacts are of those ingredients."

Earthjustice sued four major manufacturers, followed by advocacy aimed at inducing the DEC to enforce regulations added about 34 years ago but virtually ignored ever since.

Goldberg details some of the potential harm from chemicals in some household cleaners.

"Many cleaning products contain ingredients that are carcinogens. They are endocrine disrupters, they cause respiratory illness such as asthsma, which is a huge problem, and a wide array of other potential health impairments."

Earthjustice is one of 42 public-interest groups urging the DEC to continue its efforts.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY