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The Associated Press October 7, 2010, 10:36AM ET

Rare law inspires NY confab on cleanser contents

As New York state plans to start requiring cleanser manufacturers to give the public an unusually detailed look at what's in their products, the state's environmental chief and health, consumer, and industry advocates Wednesday debated exactly what that should mean.

Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Alexander "Pete" Grannis said last month he'd start enforcing a 1971 state law calling for such disclosures. It's apparently the only measure of its kind in the country, according to groups involved in the issue and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The format, timeframe and other particulars have yet to be decided, but Grannis said Wednesday that the state wants to give consumers a clear, consistent look at the contents of common cleaning products. While many companies release some ingredient information, New York's law and related regulations call for unusually explicit breakdowns.

"Our goal is to have everybody abide by the same kind of standards, however we proceed with them," Grannis said in an interview. "We want consumers to be able to look at a (web)site or sites, without having to interpret things."

As a start, about 40 environmental, health, consumer, and cleanser industry advocates spent five hours exchanging ideas Wednesday at the department's Albany headquarters, Grannis said. He said other sessions might be held.

The group discussed what kind of information the public would want, what's already available, what's needed, and other topics, said Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer for the environmental firm Earthjustice. She declined to detail the discussions but said she was "heartened" by them.

Manufacturers feel they already provide much of the relevant information, said Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the American Cleaning Institute, a leading trade group that had a representative at the session.

"We think there's already a ton of information out there that goes beyond what most folks are looking for, but today was day one," he said.

Earthjustice and other environmental and health advocates unsuccessfully sued some cleanser companies last year to try to get information under the nearly 40-year-old law. The DEC has historically said the measure allowed, but didn't require, it to collect the data, but some manufacturers have sent it in voluntarily.

The measure also seeks any company-led research on the products' health and environmental effects.

The federal Consumer Product Safety Commission requires hazard warning labels on some cleansers, and the National Institutes of Health offers some health and safety information for hundreds of cleaning products, drawn from data gathered for industrial use.

But environmental advocates want more information, amid growing concerns about potential toxins in household products. The cleanser industry says the products are safe if used correctly.

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