Sen. Al Franken introduced legislation on Wednesday that would require household cleaning products, like furniture polish and laundry detergent, to carry labels with a complete list of ingredients.
The Household Product Labeling Act, the second piece of legislation introduced by Franken, would expand existing labeling requirements.
Current law requires that product labels list "immediately hazardous" ingredients, but companies are not required to list ingredients that might cause harm over time.
The proposed legislation comes at a time when consumers have raised concerns about other potential toxins, including BPA, a chemical used to manufacture plastic bottles. In May, Minnesota became the first state to approve a ban of the sale of baby bottles and sippy cups made with BPA.
"Moms and dads have a right to know whether harmful chemicals are present in their kitchen cupboards," Franken said. "When my wife Franni and I were raising our own kids, we were constantly concerned with what we used to wash their cribs, their pacifiers, the floors, and surfaces they played on. This is just a common-sense measure to help parents keep their kids safe and healthy."
Julia Earl, executive director of Preventing Harm Minnesota, said that the legislation would help consumers make better choices.
"There's a part of the consumers who I think assume that if it's on the store shelf, it is safe or it should be safe," Earl said. "And then there's a whole other part of the population that's growing that is really concerned about whether or not the products are safe."
“Moms and dads have a right to know whether harmful chemicals are present in their kitchen cupboards.”Sen. Al Franken
In a 2007 report, Women's Voices for the Earth, an environmental advocacy organization, compiled information about the health risks of common household cleaners.
According to the "Household Hazards: Potential Hazard of Home Cleaning Products" report, certain chemicals found in cleaning products have been linked to increased rates of asthma, reproductive problems, and developmental delays.
The report said that some of the potentially harmful ingredients include: glycol ethers (found in several types of Pine Sol and Formula 409 cleaners), phthalates (found in many laundry detergents and fabric softeners), and monoethanolamine (found in many types of Tide, Dreft, Ivory, Gain, and Cheer detergents).
Earl said that fragrances added to cleaning products also pose health risks.
"A lot of us associate a clean home with a certain smell, like a lemony smell or a pine smell," she said. "And unfortunately, depending on how they've been manufactured, phthalates may have been used in creating that fragrancy scent, which can in turn cause health problems."
Earl said that the legislation has some limitations. Consumers would need to read labels carefully and understand which chemicals might cause long-term health problems.
"Ultimately, Preventing Harm Minnesota would like to see the manufacturers creating products without any toxicants," she said.
Rep. Steve Israel, of New York, has introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives.