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Household cleaners, dishwashing detergents, furniture polish, bug sprays, and carpet cleaners contain toxic chemicals that have caused wrongful deaths and personal injuries such as asthma, birth defects, poisonings, and burns. 

The presence of these products frequently makes indoor air more toxic than outdoor air.With many of these products, the risks are largely unknown because the ingredients are unidentified. The companies that sell these cleaners and sprays don’t list all their ingredients, and they’re not breaking any laws by withholding that information.

Federal law requires food products list all ingredients, but cleaning agents don’t have that requirement. And companies that sell chemicals don’t have to test them to prove that they’re safe. The result is that while the cleaners, polishes, and sprays under the sink are often hazardous, they’re also mysteries. Only the people who make the products actually know everything that’s in them, and nobody knows how dangerous they may be.

Finally, consumers and legislators are becoming more aware of the dangers in household cleaners. California Senator Joe Simitian has been a leader in the efforts to persuade the makers of household products to disclose their ingredients, but huge companies such as Proctor & Gamble have been predictably resistant to disclosure requests. Their claim is that their formulas are trade secrets, but they’re really just trying to protect their profit margins.

Right now, the labels on thousands of household products fail to disclose all the ingredients, and here’s one example of what the labels say and what they don’t say.

The label on Cameo Aluminum & Stainless Steel Cleaner says that the product contains “polishing agents, anionic surfactants, and small quantities of perfumes and preservatives”. That wouldn’t tell an emergency room physician exactly what a personal injury victim might have inhaled or ingested.

The only ingredients that the label actually identifies are Sulfamic Acid and Sodium Silicofluoride. The “Caution” section of the label says only: Eye Irritant. If contact with eyes occurs, flush thoroughly with water. If irritation persists, call a physician.

That caution is much weaker than the ones that appear on the Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). The MSDS for Sulfamic Acid says that it is “Extremely hazardous in case of skin contact (corrosive, irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation.”

For Sodium Silicofluoride, the MSDS offers this scary assessment: Hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. Severe over-exposure can result in death.

Many chemicals in household products are very hazardous, and some of these ingredients also show up in popular cosmetics. For example, Timewise Night Solution from Mary Kay lists propylene glycol and triethanolamine as two of its ingredients.

The MSDS for propylene glycol says that it is: slightly hazardous in case of skin contact (irritant), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. For triethanolamine, the MSDS offers this caution: hazardous in case of skin contact (permeator), of eye contact (irritant), of ingestion, of inhalation. The substance may be toxic to kidneys, liver, and skin. Repeated or prolonged exposure to the substance can produce target organs damage.

Consumers at least know what they’re getting when they buy from Mary Kay, and they have a right to know what they’re getting when they buy a household cleaner. Chemical companies do not have a right to sell products that harm consumers, regardless of what the law requires or fails to require.

To the credit of our legislators, California is taking its own important action with the Green Chemical Initiative, which will make companies disclose what’s in their products and replace dangerous ingredients with safer alternatives. This is a valuable step, but it’s certain to meet plenty of resistance from chemical companies.

Anyone needing help for a personal injury suspected to be chemically related can talk to an experienced lawyer by contacting us. There is no charge. All work is performed on a contingency basis. If we don’t collect, you owe nothing. We never charge for taking a call or making one.


Richard Alexander