Sunday, June 7, 2009
Phthalates make plastics soft but have many other uses in the chemical world we live in.
A top manufacturer of household cleaners announced plans on March 12th, 2009 to eliminate a controversial plastics additive from its brand and voluntarily disclose all product ingredients.
S.C. Johnson – maker of Windex, Shout and Glade – said that it has begun working with its suppliers to end the use of phthalates, which soften plastics.
The move comes as lawmakers are debating regulations for many industrial chemicals as research suggests potentially serious health impacts. Phthalates, for example, interfere with hormones and have been linked to genetic abnormalities in baby boys.
Congress passed a bill last year banning certain phthalates in toys as part of a broad consumer-protection bill, and some states are considering bans on the chemical in children's products. The American Chemistry Council opposes such bans, saying they are unsupported by science.
The council and other industry groups point to studies by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that failed to find a link between the plastics additive and human reproductive problems because of the low levels to which the vast majority of people are exposed.
S.C. Johnson Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson said in a statement that the company believes the chemical is safe but is moving to remove them in response to consumer concerns.
"Even though the chemistry was sound, we decided that making sure consumers know they can trust S.C. Johnson products was well worth the time and cost to change them," Johnson said.
Environmentalists and public-health advocates say that even if the science is not conclusive, there is enough uncertainty to warrant action.
S.C. Johnson also pledged to list all ingredients, including dyes, preservatives and fragrance ingredients – a first in the industry.
The industry has come under fire lately for a lack of transparency in product ingredients. Advocacy groups say such disclosures are critical to understanding the effects of cleaners and other household products on human health and the environment.
In response, Johnson said the company is committed to providing accessible information to consumers, including setting up a Web site dedicated to product ingredients. The goal is to get all ingredients listed by 2012.
Lawsuit seeks disclosure
Last month, a coalition of advocacy groups sued four manufacturers of household cleaners for failing to disclose the ingredients under New York state law. Earthjustice attorney Keri Powell, who filed the lawsuit, said she sees S.C. Johnson's announcement as a positive step.
"We're glad to see S.C. Johnson taking the lead today, setting an example for transparency that the rest of the industry would do well to follow," Powell said.
Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in a blog post that disclosing ingredients does not guarantee a product's safety but is a critical step in assessing safety. In addition, she wrote, it empowers consumers.
"This move could signal a broader response to the public opposition to lack of information and unsafe chemicals in household products," Beinecke said. "Public concern is starting to move not only individual companies like S.C. Johnson, but the marketplace as a whole, as well as public policy."
There are signs that the market is paying attention, as major manufacturers begin to change product formulations based on consumer concern. Last week, the country's six largest manufacturers of baby bottles agreed to stop using another controversial plastics additive, bisphenol A, or BPA, as states consider banning the chemical.
BPA is a high-protein chemical that has been used for decades to make polycarbonate plastics and epoxy linings for food cans. Concerns about it are growing because studies show it mimics estrogen and has been linked to developmental problems and precancerous growths in animals.
Beinecke called the companies' decisions a "testament to the power of consumers to make a difference."