Zero Toxics Product Registry
The Need for Full Disclosure
and Correct Product Labeling
We shop in a marketplace today that is a minefield of toxic products. And it really is a minefield, because almost any product we purchase could have unseen hazards and damage our health.
But just like walking through a minefield scattered with hidden explosives, if you know where to shop, and choose your purchases wisely, you can walk through the marketplace safely.
The key for consumers to find toxic free products that are safe to use is disclosure and labelling.
I’ve been researching and recommending nontoxic consumer products for more than thirty years.
In order to evaluate a product to find out if it’s toxic or not, I need the answers to two questions:
1. What materials/ingredients are used to make the product?
2. Are those materials/ingredients toxic?
If the materials/ingredients are not disclosed, I cannot evaluate their safety.
Labeling Laws in the USA
Labelling laws in the USA are a mess. Different types of products are regulated by various government agencies, and each on has it’s own unique regulations.
Here’s what I wrote about the labeling laws for cleaning products more than 20 years ago—and nothing has changed since.
The biggest problem in assessing the possible danger of cleaning products is that the manufacturers are no required to list the exact ingredients on the label. For instance, you can’t look at a label to be sure that a certain furniture polish does not contain nitrobenzene, or that a mold and mildew cleaner is free from pentachlorophenol. The products on our shelves may contain many toxic chemicals, but we have no way of finding out what they are. Even the government and poison control centers cannot break the code of trade secrecy surrounding cleaning products. The best we can do is guess which chemicals might be in these products and evaluate their health effects.
Cleaning product manufacturers are also not required to warn against product use by those what are at high-risk because of specific medial conditions. For example, the labels on cleaning products in aerosol containers do not disclose that the aerosol mist can aggravate an existing lung condition, such as asthma. Asthma sufferers might have less througble breathing if aerosol sprays and other volatile chemicals were not used in the home. The American Lung Association warns against the use of aerosol sprays, yet product labels do not reflect these specific health concerns.
All that is required for toxic cleaning product labels are “signal words” that indicate a degree of danger. These are based on immediate poisonings. No information is given on the health effects of long-term exposure to these chemicals.
We have a Right to Know
There is a legal principle in the United States called “right to know” which states that an individual has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living. Even though this principle is embodied in federal law in the United States as well as in local laws in several states, it is limited to community and workplace and does not apply to consumer products.
If we have a right to know the toxic chemicals to which we may be exposed in our daily living in our communities and in the workplace, we certainly ethically have the right to know the toxic chemicals to which we may be exposed in consumer products we bring into our homes and live with. We as well as have the right to know which products do notcontain toxic chemicals.
Find Out More About Full Disclosure
Safe Products Generally Have Good Labels
While toxic products usually have inadequate labeling, I’ve found it easy to find products that are not toxic because they give quite a bit of information about their materials.
Now that we have the internet and companies have websites, there is just no reason not to give as much information as possible about the safety or danger of materials. Websites have plenty of space. Every label has space for a URL to the company website.
How I am Helping Manufacturers Improve Their Communication with Consumers
Wanting to improve product labeling, I now have a program called “Zero Toxics Product Registry.”
I write Materials Disclosure Statements for individual toxic-free products made by manufacturers who give me full disclosure of their materials. These are examples of the kind of disclosure I would like to see for every product. See a sample below.
See more Materials Disclosure Statements here (scroll down the page).
An Example of Good Disclosure
I am fond of excellent quality organic food well prepared, and so I seek out farm-to-table restaurants wherever I go.
One of the hallmarks of farm-to-table is for the restaurants to list the purveyors from which they obtain their fresh ingredients and prepared foods. As a patron of the restaurant I can call any of these purveyors and ask them any questions about how they produce their food. I can go visit the farm.
They have no concern about trade secrets, proprietary formulas or keeping their suppliers from their competitors. They understand that raw materials are raw materials and the value of the maker of products is their creativity and skill to turn raw materials into something useful.
That two or more people can take the exact same list of materials and make very different things from them is easily observed. Just watch three chefs make wildly different dishes from the same basket ingredients on the popular television show Chopped. Or look at any traditional culture where everyone is eating the same local foods, and even the same dishes, yet it tastes unique coming from each individual kitchen.
Here are a couple of examples of restaurants i’ve eaten at who proudly list their purveyors:
And there are many, many, many more.
An Example of No Disclosure
This past week a client asked me if it was OK to use a certain product for a building project he is working on.
This product claimed it was plant-based and had no VOCs. It was a brand I recognized that has a good reputation.
And yet, when I went to their website, there were NO INGREDIENTS listed.
They had a whole page of logos of organizations who had certified them, but NO CERTIFICATES.
When I called a distributor and asked about the ingredients I was told they were PROPRIETARY.
I can’t recommend this product because I can’t VERIFY THE CLAIM.
Maybe I could contact all the certifiers and attempt to get certificates and track down ingredients by calling a foreign country, but it shouldn’t be that hard for sincere customers to get this information.