Greenwashing: What toxic chemicals are in your home?

By Marlena Norwood

bubbles-ii-319138-mWhen was the last time you thought about what toxins could be in the household chemicals you use? Even if you have looked at the labels recently, I guarantee you do not know exactly what is in your household cleaning products. Why? Because the manufacturers are not required to tell you.

That’s right – there is no law that regulates complete ingredient labeling of household products. This seems like a foreign concept considering that we know what nutrients are in the food we eat, and considering how popular the GMO labeling debate has become. Manufacturing companies simply don’t want people to know what chemicals are in their products. In 2009, the Household Product Labeling Act – which would have required comprehensive ingredient labeling –died in Congress.

It is not out of mere curiosity that consumers should want to know what is in their cleaning products. Consumers have a right to know because research has shown that many commonly used products contain chemicals that can be harmful to human health.

Take phthalates, used in fragrances. You can find them in your hand soaps, your deodorizing sprays, and many kinds of air fresheners. But you won’t find phthalates listed on the label of your favorite dishwashing soap, even though when they are absorbed through skin or inhaled, they can be severe endocrine disruptors.

2-Butoxyethanol, also known as butyl cellosolve, and a main ingredient in all-purpose cleaners, is know to cause harmful effects to just about every body system you can think of. It is often called a “hazardous substance” – but you won’t find that on the labels of all-purpose cleaners.

washing-spray-2-1091783-mCompanies have to reveal substances deemed toxic by the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, but the list mostly includes ones acutely toxic substances, not ones that present longer-term health risks, like phthalates and butyl cellosolve.

In an attempt to win consumer approval and dismiss the rising skepticism around household cleaning products, “greenwashing” has become quite popular. Greenwashing is a general term for a company stating (often misleadingly) the environmental/health friendliness of a certain product on its label. Unfortunately, greenwashing turns out to be more of a rhetorical tool than an evidentiary claim.

Not only is greenwashing an underhanded tactic that lies to consumers, but also it undermines the green movement as a whole, leaving consumers wondering whom to trust.

What can you do to make sure you are buying safe products for your home?

  • Do not be deceived by “green” labels – explore the Sins of Greenwashing website to see which “green” products you should stay away from.
  • Find truly green cosmetics for both men and women in the Environmental Working Group’s cosmetic database.
  • If you have a household product you love, look up its ingredients online before you buy – even though the manufacturer may not be required to list potential long-term toxins on the label, many studies have been published exposing these toxins in certain products – like this one about Febreze Air Effects.

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