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
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.environmentalchoice.org.nz www.optoutnow.co.nz