How to Go Green with Silv: A New Green Tool Puts Cleaners to Shame by Silvia Milanova, May 09 2012, 0 Comments

Photo courtesy of Enokson via Flickr. 

The Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Skin Deep Cosmetics Database has been a treasure trove for those seeking the complete lists of ingredients and their purpose in cosmetic products. Now, EWG, a founding member of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, is in the midst of creating a new database to educate the general public about what really goes into cleaning and air-freshening products. 

The database will function as an educational tool and a guideline to finding out what really is ‘green’ out there and what has been ‘greenwashed’—something that appears to be environmentally friendly, but is in fact, not—and will feature over 2,000 products, with potential additions. 

"We hope the database will continue to grow as all of our other databases have, including Skin Deep, our Farm Subsidies Database, our Tap Water Database and our Cell Phone Database," said Leeann Brown, of the Environmental Working Group.

The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics is also behind EWG's ongoing success of bringing more attention to the issue of mislabeling or excluding toxic chemicals. 

"We’re very pleased that EWG has created this new database--the cleaning industry needs transparency too and consumers have a right to know what's in the products we put on our bodies and use around our homes," said Lisa Archer, Director of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics.

Since the complete database won’t launch until Fall 2012, the EWG has released a Hall of Shame booklet to showcase what can be expected from the database. The EWG Cleaners Hall of Shame, as they call it, highlights the worst of the worst. The research done so far has uncovered that some of the ingredients in these products are so toxic that they’re even banned in some countries. Many of these products can “inflict serious harm on unwary users. Many present severe risk to children who may ingest or spill them or breathe their fumes.” 

The Hall of Shame booklet lists specific brands of products and categorizes them into sections. Some of these include, “Banned abroad”, “Drain cleaners that can burn and blind”, “Oven cleaners that omit toxic fumes”, “Mystery mixtures”, “Fatal if inhaled”, “High hazard ingredients”, “Undisclosed chemicals in the air”, and “Dead zone detergents”, to name a few. Each product is analyzed and toxic ingredients are highlighted, as well as why they should be avoided, followed by useful tips on how to make smarter and healthier choices. 

The primary purpose of the new database is to enlighten Americans on what goes into these products, which are highly unregulated by the government. 

"Just as with cosmetics, there are major loopholes in testing, labeling and disclosure requirement when it comes to cleaning products," said Brown. "EWG wanted to close that loophole and give consumers an independent, free source of information on household cleaners." ..."There are a lot of misconceptions about cleaning products and consumer products in general, so be sure to take the time and learn about the purchases you make." 

Since the FDA does not require approval of cosmetic products or ingredients before they go on the market, companies can tweak claims on packaging and omit ingredient lists or other dangerous warnings which are found on their Web sites, but not on their products. Some bottles are labeled as, “non-toxic” and “biodegradable”, yet the formulas include chemicals such as 2-butoxyethanol (an eye-irritant), d-limonene (dangerous when sprayed into the air), formaldehyde (a carcinogen), nonylphenol (can disrupt the hormone system), quaternium-18 (persistent in environment), and DEGBE (a lung irritant), among MANY more scientifically-proven-to-be-harmful substances. 

Aside from the dangerous ingredients, products have fine print stating dangers:

* Will burn skin and Eyes 
* Vapor harmful… 
* HARMFUL IF SWALLOWED 
* Inhalation abuse of aerosol products may be harmful or fatal 
* Irreversible damage

Some companies omit to list ANY ingredients, or list just a few, and may have some warnings or none at all, unless consumers go on their Web sites. And let’s face it, how many people actually go on a company’s Web site and read the ingredient lists of products or Warning language before cleaning their bathtub? Probably not many.

So, what does all of this mean for industries and consumers in general? The end goal of this effort is to inform consumers of these potential hazards, so they in turn can demand better products. The demand will then drive companies to put in their own efforts, and create safer formulas, both for the environment and the human body. 

“We have seen companies respond to increased consumer demand for safer products and more ingredient transparency in both the cosmetics and cleaning products sectors,” said Lisa Archer of the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. “This is a major driver of innovation in both industries and has spawned a new wave of start-ups by social entrepreneurs focused on creating sustainable products." 

That is why EWG continues to create informative databases and "to empower consumers with information so they can make healthier choices for themselves and their families," adds Leeann Brown. 

For more information on the new database and a preview of what to expect this Fall, please read EWG's Cleaners Hall Of Shame.