Smelling of roses?

Newly washed laun­dry smells won­der­ful, doesn’t it? Like a spring meadow or a trop­i­cal rain­for­est... maybe not. Those clean, fresh, ‘nat­u­ral’ fra­grances you’re in­hal­ing could ac­tu­ally con­tain a cock­tail of hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal in­gre­di­ents – some

Element - - Global Health - By Deirdre Cole­man

While la­belling obli­ga­tions around safety and han­dling pre­cau­tions do ex­ist, New Zealand law does not in­clude a blan­ket re­quire­ment that man­u­fac­tur­ers dis­close in­gre­di­ents used in clean­ing prod­ucts. In fact, some prod­uct pack­ag­ing has no in­gre­di­ents listed what­so­ever; other prod­ucts list only the “ac­tive in­gre­di­ent”; and for some, the in­for­ma­tion is so vague it’s use­less. The man­u­fac­tur­ers of one clean­ing prod­uct have no qualms about talk­ing down to con­sumers, of­fer­ing us la­belling like this: “con­tains in­gre­di­ents to lift dirt from sur­faces (sur­fac­tants); re­move stains (pol­ish­ing par­ti­cles), break up grease (al­ka­lis); and leave a fresh smell (per­fume).”

Fra­grances are added to most clean­ing prod­ucts (some­times to dis­guise the smell of other chem­i­cals or to cre­ate what we’ve come to recog­nise as that “clean” smell). The US Na­tional In­sti­tute of Oc­cu­pa­tional Safety & Health has found that 30 per­cent of the sub­stances used in the fra­grance in­dus­try are toxic – po­ten­tially caus­ing nau­sea, al­ler­gic re­ac­tions, and eye, skin and re­s­pi­ra­tory-tract ir­ri­ta­tion – and some may be car­cino­genic. How­ever, be­cause fra­grance for­mu­las are con­sid­ered trade se­crets, com­pa­nies aren’t obliged to list their in­gre­di­ents – “fra­grance” will suf­fice. And to make the smell last longer, ph­tha­lates are of­ten used. Sus­pected hor­mone dis­rup­tors, ph­tha­lates may also cause liver and kid­ney tox­i­c­ity, which is why some have been banned in Eu­rope.

Get­ting to grips with le­gal re­quire­ments for la­belling of do­mes­tic clean­ing prod­ucts and sim­i­lar sub­stances is by no means sim­ple, says Ver­non Rive, se­nior lec­turer in law at AUT Univer­sity’s Law School.

“The regime is com­plex. To find what spe­cific la­belling obli­ga­tions are in any one in­stance re­quires ac­cess to and fa­mil­iar­ity with mul­ti­ple sources of reg­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing the rel­e­vant EPA Group Stan­dards, Haz­ardous Sub­stances leg­is­la­tion and do­mes­tic reg­u­la­tions. But it goes fur­ther than that. The New Zealand sys­tem al­lows al­ter­na­tive means of com­pli­ance – la­belling reg­u­la­tions in var­i­ous over­seas ju­ris­dic­tions are, in some cases, deemed to sat­isfy New Zealand obli­ga­tion.”

This means im­porters, dis­trib­u­tors and the in­ter­ested pub­lic may need to find out what the off­shore rules are be­fore they know whether the law has been bro­ken in New Zealand. This does leave open the real pos­si­bil­ity of non-com­pli­ance, whether de­lib­er­ate or in­ad­ver­tent, says Rive.

“Be­cause the regime is so com­plex, and the range of prod­ucts at is­sue wide, it’s un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect that gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors will be mon­i­tor­ing all retailers and dis­trib­u­tors to check that stan­dards are be­ing met.”

In the ab­sence of in­gre­di­ent list­ing on a prod­uct’s pack­ag­ing, you can learn more from the Ma­te­rial Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) avail­able from the man­u­fac­turer. These de­scribe the chem­i­cal and phys­i­cal prop­er­ties of a sub­stance, any health haz­ard in­for­ma­tion and pre­cau­tions for use and safe han­dling. An MSDS must also de­clare if a prod­uct is haz­ardous, dan­ger­ous or poses long-term risks such as be­ing a po­ten­tial car­cino­gen. But they are not re­quired by law to take into ac­count the lat­est re­search on re­pro­duc­tive and eco­log­i­cal tox­ins.

Learn more: www.en­vi­ron­men­tal­ www.optout­


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