Mother Jones: What the Heck is “Fragrance?” Thanks to California, Companies Now Have to Tell Us.

December 01, 2017

By Joanna Nix 

Peruse the ingredients list of your air freshener, floor polish, or multi-surface cleaner, and you’ll likely come across an “f” word: fragrance. You know what it means—whatever the manufacturer added to make your house smell nice—but what does it stand for?

Turns out, the “f” word could stand for one or more of 3,000-plus chemicals. Under a federal rule that protects manufacturers from revealing “trade secrets,” companies haven’t had to disclose those ingredients, even if they’re, say, known carcinogens, or if they impair fetal development. But in California—and, in effect, the rest of the country—that’s about to change.

In October, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Cleaning Product Right to Know Act; as part of a bundle of more than 850 bills signed on the same day, it largely flew under the radar. Starting in 2020, manufacturers of cleaning solutions, air fresheners, and products used to clean cars will need to disclose certain toxic chemicals online. The following year, they’ll also have to list those chemicals on product labels....

State Sen. Ricardo Lara, who authored the bill, says his mother motivated him to shepherd it. After immigrating to the United States from Mexico, she cleaned houses for a living. “I remember her telling me stories about how she’d feel sick or dizzy after a day of cleaning bathrooms and other people’s homes,” he says. “She never questioned that there might have been a link to the products she was using.”

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