Cleaning company promises to remove controversial chemicals

11:26 PM, Jun 7, 2009   |    comments
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St. Petersburg, Florida--S.C. Johnson announced Thursday that it's removing controversial chemicals called phthalates from Windex, Shout, Pledge and its other popular cleaning products, and will begin disclosing all ingredients on its labels.

The company plans to phase out phthalates, chemicals that interfere with the hormone system and have been linked to genital abnormalities in newborn boys, within two years, the company said in a statement.

The company believes that phthalates are safe, says chairman and chief executive officer Fisk Johnson. But the company is removing the chemicals because of consumer concerns, he said in a statement.

"Listening and responding to consumers is S.C. Johnson's top priority," Johnson said in the statement. "Making information about the ingredients in our products readily accessible and easy to understand helps our consumers know they can continue to trust our products."

Environmentalists and consumer health groups have strongly criticized the makers of household cleaners for refusing to include a complete list of ingredients on its labels, including dyes, preservatives and fragrances. Only a handful of household cleaning brands, such as Seventh Generation, list every ingredient.

By January 2012, S.C. Johnson will list its ingredients not only on labels, but also on a company website,, and through a toll-free number, 1-800-558-5252.

Health and environmental advocates welcomed the change. Many health advocates say the changes are especially significant given that S.C. Johnson products are used in 99 million American homes.

Listing ingredients is especially important for people with allergies, lung disease or families with small children, "whose growing lungs need special protection," says Charles Connor, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says it hopes others in the industry will follow S.C. Johnson's example.

"A trip to the drugstore or supermarket shouldn't turn into a guessing game," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in her blog today. "Their customers will now be able to make informed choices."

In her blog, Beinecke noted that the defense council last year had to take air fresheners to a lab for expensive tests to find out their ingredients. The council found that many air fresheners have high levels of phthalates.

Beinecke notes that household cleaners may still contain harmful ingredients. But listing ingredients and phasing out phthalates is "a critical first step."

Environmentalists have won a number of key victories in the past year in their fight to stop the use of controversial chemicals in consumer products.

Congress virtually banned lead and six phthalates in children's products in a law that took effect in February.

The country's leading baby bottle manufacturers last week announced that they will stop using an estrogen-like chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA, in their plastic bottles. A large study in The Journal of the American Medical Association in October linked BPA to heart disease and diabetes, and animal studies have linked it to other health problems.

Beinecke and others say these changes show that the marketplace is listening to customers.

"People who buy S.C, Johnson products let the company know they were concerned about ingredients," Beinecke says. "The company's response is a testament to the power of consumers to make a difference."

USA Today

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