Just in time for spring cleaning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging consumers to look for cleaning products that protect people’s health and the environment. The EPA released a hip new label promoting its Safer Choice program, which consumers can use to quickly identify products that contain safe ingredients.
There are currently 2,500 products that have been cleared by the EPA, including at the time of this posting: 99 all-purpose cleaners, 34 window and glass cleaners, 30 tub and tile cleaners, and 9 toilet bowl cleaners. You can view the list of Safer Choice products on the EPA’s website.
The program encourages manufacturers to submit their products for analysis and all ingredients must pass the EPA’s health and environment criteria. There are also requirements around packaging, performance, and ingredient disclosure. The certification process can take a couple of years for a product to go through the complete review. This process also looks at chemicals in proprietary raw material blends, which supplier companies share with Safer Choice in confidentiality.
Safer Choice focuses at the ingredient level to uncover chemicals of concern that can be masked by raw material blends or by dilution in water. As the EPA notes, “A surfactant that is acutely toxic to aquatic organisms and environmentally persistent can appear to pose a low concern when blended with other less toxic and less persistent surfactants. Similarly, water, typically the largest percentage ingredient even in concentrated products, can mask the toxicity of a hazardous chemical.”
Safer Choice looks for potentially dangerous chemical combinations, which the EPA says “occur with surprising frequency in products.” These combinations include nitro-containing compounds mixed with amines to create nitrosamines, which are carcinogens. Essentially, products cleared with the Safer Choice label don’t contain chemicals known to contribute to most health and environmental problems, thus are guaranteed not to contain carcinogens, reproductive toxins, brain damaging chemicals, or chemicals that hurt aquatic life, for example.
My favorite part of the program is that Safer Choice recommends safer substitutes for chemicals of concern. So if a manufacturer’s product is rejected by the program, they’re given a list of potential substitutes for the dangerous ingredients, and are allowed to go back to the drawing board to create a safer product. The Safer Choice Program works directly with EPA’s green chemistry specialists to identify these substitutions, sharing their knowledge and helping to guide the development of healthier products.
Andy Igrejas, National Campaign Director of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families, said, “In a sure sign that the program is doing something positive in the world, the more retrograde members of the chemical industry have tried to cut the program’s funding in Congress. So far they have failed.”