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The Greenwash Brigade

Baking soda is all you need to make your own green cleaning products

Heidi Siegelbaum Mar 23, 2008

I attended a green cleaning party today with a group of voluble, smart women as part of a national Safe Cleaning Products Initiative sponsored by Women’s Voices for the Earth .The campaign provided mixing directions, labels and green cleaning party kits free of charge . Last July Marketplace aired a story about WVE’s rising voice against the effect of toxic chemicals on women in particular.

The lines are always the same: no way to find out what’s in it (you can if the company doesn’t claim all components as trade secrets) and that consumer safety is “our highest priority” as Procter & Gamble states. Well, if consumer safety was the priority of these manufacturers, then perhaps there wouldn’t be 200 ingredients in a household cleaner– the longer the list, the bigger trouble you are in. It also struck me as “odd” that the reason ingredients aren’t listed is because the law doesn’t require it. What are they hiding then?

WVE’s web site reveals that American women’s breast milk is so fully laced with synthetic chemicals that if bottled, most of it would not pass FDA regulations. Check out the Collaborative on Health and the Environment and Breast Cancer Fund if you really want to get riled up.

After getting a house tour of how to clean, we paired up with newly found friends and large containers of baking soda, distilled white vinegar, olive oil, castile soap, essential oils, borax and hydrogen peroxide. In minutes we made a family of cleaning products containing perhaps four ingredients max– not the 20 (or 200) in your synthetic products– using mainly salad dressing ingredients and baking soda. I tested one as soon as I got home and our windows were never cleaner. Corporate cage fight: Clorox versus Church & Dwight Co, Inc., owners of the Arm & Hammer baking soda empire.

Companies continue to make consumer products that are not tested for safety, will never be tested for safety, and don’t have to be tested for safety. Oh, I almost forgot– they also don’t have to label the products fully and the constituents are often protected by trade secret claims your tax dollars pay to protect.

Truthful and accurate labeling should be the currency of democracy. The Consumer Product Safety Commission only regulates and requires labeling for household cleaners based on these hazard categories: toxic, flammable, caustic, irritant, sensitizer, carcinogen, nerve or reproductive toxin. The big but is there are thousands of chemicals that have other human health effects, plus the law doesn’t cover “fragrance” which can itself contains tens and sometimes hundreds of toxic chemicals… so basically the law is meaningless since it left the back door wide open… really wide.

I had boatloads of fun in this spring cleaning protest against corporations and their failure to protect human health, label products clearly and honestly address the core of what’s at play in toys, personal care products and cleaning chemicals:

We are engaged in a very dangerous, long-term experiment with our health and economy in a post-WWII love affair with synthetic chemicals that humans and other parts of nature are simply not designed to deal with — period.

I hate to sound so naive but I can’t reach any conclusion other than that quarterly earnings trump virtually every other value under consideration, including your health. Because if it was otherwise, you would be able to read a label, understand it, and feel good about what’s inside.

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