You may have at one point or another, encountered a product with packaging meant specifically for the Californian markets. For over thirty years, Californians have had laws in place that require manufacturers to label applicable products with the label reading: “Warning: This product may contain chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm”.
Canadian regulations have no such requirements. Distributors, importers and manufacturers of cleaning products are only required to display the hazard symbols, acute warning statements and immediate first-aid instructions on the containers… but what about chronic exposure risks?
What are we missing as Canadians, what dirty secret could our cleaning products be hiding? Because we spend so much time indoors, air quality to Canadians is of paramount concern. Since the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986, often referred to as Cal Prop 65, California has been diligently updating and publishing a yearly list of harmful chemicals, a list which has grown to include more than 950 carcinogens and reproductive toxicants. The Canadian equivalent only lists eleven designated chemicals.
One category of substances that deserves a closer look by Health Canada is phthalates. Unfortunately, the government only categorized two of fourteen as toxic, regulating their use in children’s toys and cosmetics. Phthalates are extremely common in cleaning products and deodorizers, as they can help a smell linger for much longer, giving an illusion of cleanliness. The issue with these chemicals specifically goes beyond the toxicity, as they can mimic human hormones and are classified as endocrine disruptors. Children and expecting mothers are for obvious reasons especially vulnerable to disruptions to the delicate balance of their hormones. Similar to phthalates that are included to aid with the odour of cleaning products, terpenes can also skirt labelling practices by falling into the “fragrance loophole”. Terpenes are plant oils with strong scents, like lavender, citrus peels and pine. They might seem completely harmless due to being all-natural, but we don’t use only one cleaning product in our homes. The way household chemicals interact can cause some truly deadly concoctions, and such is the case with a simple pine scented floor cleaner and smog from the environment, creating formaldehyde (a known carcinogen).
Prior to being informed, seeing a product destined for California with a unique warning label might have seemed out of place and overbearing. However if all products were required by law to warn of long-term exposure risks, the ones free of the warnings might stand out as the clear choice… or better yet, the manufacturers might be nudged by conscientious shoppers to reformulate their products to not include so much poison.
The principle of innocent until proven guilty works wonderfully as foundation of our legal system, but it’s too little too late when dealing with harmful chemicals. There is no precautionary measure taken to require proof that a product is safe, and unfortunately the proof sometimes comes much later, in the form of adverse health effects or even deaths. You have to choose what’s right for you, a process where your family isn’t treated as test subjects for the chemical companies.