THE BLOG
04/12/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Dirty Word in Clean

Good old "Susie Homemaker," the iconic 1950s All-American housewife. Black and white TV images of her summon up fantasies of freshly baked apple pie and a gentle squeeze when you crawl into bed. She was the Stepford Wife image of perfection and the ideal stay-at-home wife and mother devoted to her family and spotlessly clean home. (Remember Donna Reed and June Cleaver vacuuming in high heels?)

As the fog of today's cleaning products and eco-reality lifts, we begin to notice that times have changed and so have our gross (mis)perceptions. Today's modern woman is a high-def portrayal of a post-feminist stereotype -- a woman on the go, juggling family, health, career and home. She's desperately trying to keep up with Martha Stewart (and falling short), shuttling her kids to after-school activities, and still cleaning, only no longer while in heels.

Only fifty years ago, almost every chemical used in today's commercial cleaning products found under most kitchen and bathroom sinks, were only available in industrial chemical laboratories. But today's eco-savvy stay-at-home moms, househusbands and dads are growing more and more concerned about the use of these chemicals in their homes and kids' schools. They are seeking out safer, greener alternatives for cleaning because of their well-founded fears that the ingredients in common cleansers are contaminating their indoor environments.

These contaminants, among a laundry list of potential risks, can lead to respiratory diseases, negatively impact fetal and child development, and interfere with normal hormonal and reproductive functioning. According to the Toronto Indoor Air Conference of 1990, (Umm -- yes, it really was 19 years ago) as a result of a higher rate of exposure to toxic chemicals in common household products, women who are stay-at-home moms have a 54% higher death rate from cancer than those who work outside the home. Unless, of course, their work outside of the home is as a low wage hotel maid, waitress, or housecleaner, where their daily exposure to highly toxic chemicals is even greater.

Now, on behalf of the "Susie and Sam Homemakers" of the world, environmental groups are taking the giants of the Cleaning Industrial Complex to task, in an attempt to make obligatory the long-forgotten, and rarely enforced New York State law that requires disclosure of every chemical ingredient in all cleaning products. The 1976 law requires household and commercial cleaning companies selling their products in New York to file semi-annual reports with the state listing the chemicals contained in their cleansers and disclosing any company research on these chemicals' health and environmental risks and effects.

Hold onto your hats, ladies and gents -- Ajax Cleaners, Arm & Hammer, Bounce, Brillo, Calgon, Cameo Cleaners, Cascade, Cheer, Church and Dwight, Colgate-Palmolive, Dawn, Dermassage, Downy, Dreft, Dynamo, Electrasol, Era, Finish, Gain, Ivory, Joy, Kaboom, Lysol, Mr. Clean, Murphy's Oil Soap, Orange Glo Hardwood Floor Care, Orange Glo Wood Furniture Cleaner & Polish, OxiClean, Parsons' Ammonia, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt-Benckiser, Resolve, Scrub-Free Cleaners, SNOBOL Toilet Bowl Cleaner, Softsoap, Spray 'n Wash, Suavitel, Swiffer, Tide, Tom's of Maine (Aww...come on. Not crunchy-granola-imaged Tom's of Maine, too!), Vanish, and Woolite, are all being targeted in the class action suit because they did not respond to a request to disclose their ingredients, which is a legal requirement that until now, has gone unenforced.

According to the National Research Council, toxic information is unavailable for more than 80% of the chemicals in the products we use every day. Today, only a measly 1% of toxins get listed on labels because companies classify their ingredients as "trade secrets." But unfortunately, over the past 50 years more than 75,000 chemicals have been introduced into the environment with -- yes count them -- 300 synthetic chemicals now found in the bodies of almost every American man, woman, child and even newborn.

The Soap and Detergent Association is a one-hundred plus member trade association representing the $30 billion U.S. cleaning products market and -- oops -- it seems that they kinda' forgot to inform their brand loyal customers that their products might be killing them.

Do common cleaners have toxic ingredients? They might. They might not. But until we know for certain -- who here cares to continue to experiment with his or her own health or the health of their children?