cleanersThere’s a battle brewing beneath your kitchen’s sink, and it has nothing to do with roaches or termites, or even the mildew around the pipes. Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble and other manufacturers of household cleaners, detergents and furniture polishes are being asked to come clean themselves about the chemicals they use in their products. Although many of the chemicals are only present in tiny amounts, data shows some of them to be associated with birth defects, fertility problems, and bronchial illnesses, like asthma. And consumer groups argue that even if trace amounts of the chemicals are low, what will their effect be on public health long-term? Many are demanding full-disclosure on just what goes into those plastic containers under the kitchen countertops. While the industry wants to appear environmentally (and consumer) friendly, manufacturers don’t want to give competitors all-access into the ingredients of Clorox, for example, or Mr. Clean. So industry executives are working with consumers to come up with a strategy to please all parties. It won’t be easy. Starting in January, the industry will voluntarily begin disclosing many of the ingredients in its cleaning products, a business that currently generates around $14 billion a year. Manufacturers will set up toll-free hotlines, as well as product information Web sites, and, in some instances, the chemicals in a given product will be printed on the label. The plan has been applauded by consumer groups as a good first step. But some critics say it doesn’t go far enough. Colgate-Palmolive, Procter & Gamble, and other manufacturers have been sued by consumer groups in New York State. The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of a number of consumer groups, seeks enforcement of an obscure 1976 state law that requires makers of household cleaners that are sold in New York to file reports that list product ingredients. Reports have never been filed, and the companies claim they shouldn’t have to be. In their response to the suit, the companies say that the consumer groups “have not alleged that their members have suffered any actual physical injury as a result of using any of respondents’ household cleaning products, nor have they alleged any nonspeculative, actual injury to the environment or to the public health caused by any of respondents’ products.” In addition to the suit, a bill is working its way through Congress which would require companies to disclose ingredients on product labels; currently, the government requires only the posting of ingredients that pose an immediate danger. Congressman Steve Israel (D – New York) introduced the mandatory labeling bill, which has been criticized by the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA), an industry lobbying group that has been working with consumer groups on a plan everyone can by happy with. It’s working so far, with the association bringing in such parties as the Sierra Club and Procter & Gamble in support of the voluntary plan. Bones of contention remain. The voluntary plan covers household cleaners, floor polishes, air fresheners, and automotive care. It will require that ingredients be listed, in descending order of concentration; trace amounts (less than 1%) wouldn’t be required to be ranked. And fragrances, dyes, and preservatives are exempt. Some companies are trying to stay ahead of the curve – and what they think may be the inevitable. S. C. Johnson & Company, which makes Shout stain remover, Windex, and Glade air fresheners, says it will list all ingredients on product labels, its Web site, and through a toll-free number. Company officials admit the move, which has won praise from consumer groups, is a smart business decision. The Clorox Company, which manufactures Clorox, Tilex, and Pine-Sol, has created an all-natural product line, which it markets under the name Green Works; ingredients are listed on labels as well as on the products’ Web site. Clorox’s other product ingredients are also listed on its Web site. And although the industry’s leader, Procter & Gamble, is fighting consumer groups in New York State court, the company endorses the voluntary labeling plan.