In recent years, the grassroots movement for ingredient transparency has been putting pressure on manufacturers of cosmetics, processed food and household cleaners to disclose a full list of ingredients. The pressure of these groups has led to changes by large corporations as well as updated FDA guidelines in food and product labeling. Not all the information circulating about the cleaning product industry is correct, however. 

“Unfortunately, there is a host of misinformation circulating about the chemicals in cleaning products,” says Sansoni. “There is also a misreading of studies about the chemicals in those products. For example, one group will say, ‘Look at this study. Chemical X can lead to a disease.’ Sometimes it is just one study. It’s a false narrative.” 

Many cleaning product manufacturers have been voluntarily labeling all the ingredients in their cleaning products, including fragrance ingredients. In the absence of federal and, until recently, state regulations mandating ingredient disclosure, not all companies have provided that information. 

The New York program is authorized by a law passed nearly 50 years ago. But the provision requiring disclosure of cleaning product ingredients was never enforced until the nonprofit group Earthjustice brought it to the attention of state regulators by taking major manufacturers to court.

Distributors of jan/san products might want to become familiar with the requirements that these laws are placing on manufacturers. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that the manufacturers of the cleaning products they purchase for use in their businesses could become unavailable. 

“We don’t expect these disclosure requirements to result in the elimination of products,” says Bill Balek, director of legislative affairs for ISSA

However, he says the new regulations may have given some manufacturers new incentives to reformulate their products to remove harmful ingredients, rather than publicly disclosing their presence in the products. 

Sansoni agrees. 

“If a company decides that the process to address these regulations in certain products is too complex, it might decide not to produce them,” he says. “Each company will have to weigh the pros and cons. There is some uncertainty in the industry.”

Distributors with private label products could find that they might have to disclose ingredients if manufacturers do not. For example, if a manufacturer goes out of business or does not transact business in a state where a distributor is located, the distributor might need to take on that responsibility. 

“If distributors have not been in contact with their suppliers, they should call now,” says Sansoni. “Start a dialogue asking, ‘What can you tell us? Are you looking at any potential disruptions in production? Could it affect what we are supplying?’” 

The Goal: A Federal Law

Currently, corporations and state governments each want a consistent universally-accepted label for transparency and sustainability. Right now, it is just California and New York that have passed laws, but more states have legislation in the works. 

“In the last legislative session, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon considered similar legislation and we expect that those bills will be reintroduced,” says Balek. “Such a state-by-state approach will be extremely problematic for the industry. Ultimately, we could end up with 50 different disclosure requirements, which could place an extreme economic burden on manufacturers across the country.”

In its joint statement, the ACI and HCPA urge the NYSDEC to retract its program and to work with all stakeholders toward a shared goal of safeguarding consumers and workers with clear and responsible ingredient communication solutions. 

“There is growing support for a uniform federal ingredient disclosure regulation, but given the gridlock that exists in Congress, we don’t expect federal legislation on ingredient disclosure to pass this session,” says Balek. 

Regardless of where a industry-wide label comes from, industry experts believe it will take years to implement. In the meantime, distributors operating in California and New York will be among the first to experience this upcoming age of greater transparency. SM

JoAnn Petaschnick is a freelance writer based in Milwaukee.

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