Makers of cleaning products sold in California soon will disclose their ingredients on labels and online, the result of a law the state enacted in October. New York, meanwhile, is on the cusp of imposing similar requirements.
Some U.S. chemical producers fear the requirements in the two jurisdictions won’t be identical and will cause headaches for producers and retailers alike. They also worry about protection of companies’ proprietary formulas.
Now the American Chemistry Council, the largest organization representing U.S. chemical manufacturers, is joining with agriculture interests and other businesses to ask Congress to set national standards for state or local labeling or ingredient disclosure policies, the association’s CEO, Calvin M. Dooley, says.
Beyond ingredient disclosure policies like those in California and New York, the industry is worried about states’ lists of chemicals deemed toxic. States with such lists, such as Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, require that manufacturers of children’s products disclose the presence of specified substances.
Plus, more states are considering adoption of their own chemical disclosure policies. For instance, Alaska, California, Mississippi, and Rhode Island this year are considering legislation that would require companies to reveal ingredients used in cosmetics, according to the advocacy group Safer States, a network of environmental health coalitions across the U.S. Bills pending in Massachusetts would require disclosure of certain toxic chemicals in children’s products and compel dry cleaners to post notice of the cleaning agents and solvents they use.
“State disclosure laws have proven effective in providing policymakers with an understanding of how people are exposed to chemicals from products, with particular recognition of greater exposures among low-income communities and communities of color,” Safer States says. “These laws also inform consumers about their buying choices and help manufacturers identify chemicals to eliminate in their products.”
Many companies are concerned about the push to eliminate particular chemicals because of the potential that substitute compounds could hurt product performance or pose health or environmental risks.
Additionally, regarding state disclosure proposals, “The criteria and rationale for these initiatives is not consistent, threatening to leave consumers and retailers even more confused about what is and is not safe,” says Claire Parker, spokesperson for an industry coalition being formed to push Congress to act. ACC intends to be part of the coalition, Dooley says.
But ACC’s stance against the state policies goes counter to Congress’s landmark 2016 modernization of the nation’s commercial chemicals law, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), charges Daniel Rosenberg, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council. The revised TSCA explicitly preserves states’ labeling, ingredient disclosure, and use reporting laws—and that provision was essential to garnering enough bipartisan political support to pass the legislation, Rosenberg says. ACC lauded the TSCA update in 2016, but now the organization is “talking about lobbying Congress to hamstring the states’ ability to require labeling and ingredient disclosure,” Rosenberg says.
The industry push against state labeling and disclosure requirements isn’t limited to ingredient disclosure initiatives. It also targets California’s long-standing requirements for warning labels and signs for products containing chemicals listed under Proposition 65. That 1986 law targets substances known to cause cancer, birth defects, or reproductive harm. Many in industry, notably chemical makers, oppose these warning requirements because they are based on a substance’s hazard rather than its risk, which takes into account both health hazards and consumers’ exposure to the chemical.
ACC is aggravated that, as mandated by state law, California regulators must list a chemical under Prop 65 if the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) deems the substance to be a carcinogen. Specifically, the chemical industry group is lambasting IARC’s 2015 determination that the widely used herbicide glyphosate is a probable carcinogen, which triggered California to require Prop 65 warning labels on glyphosate sold in the state even though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and European Union have said the chemical isn’t carcinogenic.
ACC is attacking the scientific credibility of IARC, a group that operates under the World Health Organization, and is calling for its reform. IARC disputes the industry group’s claims. The U.S. federal legislative changes that ACC and other industry groups are seeking could forbid use of IARC’s determinations as a criterion for listing a chemical under state policies. The threat of such a provision could put political pressure on IARC to make changes that some businesses want, such as providing for greater input from chemical companies as the agency makes hazard decisions about substances.
But some companies are taking a different approach to state policies on product ingredient disclosure laws, as evident earlier this month at GlobalChem, the U.S. chemical industry’s annual conference on regulation.
Businesses seeking a market edge over competitors are responding to consumer demand by revealing chemicals they use even in the absence of legal requirements, Julie Froelicher, manager of regulatory and technical relations at Procter & Gamble, told GlobalChem. P&G in August announced it will disclose fragrance ingredients at concentrations down to 0.01% for all consumer products it sells in North America by 2019. Froelicher added that it is important for companies to explain to consumers what ingredients do in a product and why they are important to its performance, she said.
Consumers aren’t the only ones asking about ingredients, said Owen Caine, executive vice president for government relations and public policy at the Household & Commercial Products Association, who also spoke at GlobalChem. Companies are getting inquiries about product ingredients from investors too, Caine said.
Additionally, some retailers, under pressure from environmental and health activists, are demanding that consumer product makers disclose and reduce certain chemicals of concern, Froelicher said. For instance, Walmart is requiring manufacturers to reduce the use of and eventually choose safer substitutes for eight chemicals used in cosmetics, cleaning supplies, pet items, and baby care goods.
Ultimately, Froelicher said, demand from the marketplace—and not government requirements—will set product ingredient disclosure standards.