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January 30, 2008

For More Information, Contact:
Michelle Thomas (916) 651-4011


SACRAMENTO - The California State Senate has endorsed the important principle that consumers should be able to find out what is in the products they purchase by passing a “disclosure of ingredients” bill introduced by State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto).

The measure, Senate Bill (SB) 509, would require manufacturers of consumer products to publish on the Web a list of every substance in a product that makes up more than one-tenth of one percent of the whole. While previous laws have mandated disclosure of ingredients in food and cosmetics, no similar requirement exists for the thousands of consumer products that people buy and use every day.

The bill passed out of the Senate today on a vote of 21-16, and now moves to the Assembly.

“What’s in it? Consumers ought to be able to ask that question and get an answer,” said Simitian. “Whether it’s a bar of soap, a child’s toy or a sheet of paneling for the wall – I think consumers have a right to know what’s in the products they’re buying.”

The bill applies to “consumer products” as defined by federal law, which are items intended for household use, but not food, drugs, cosmetics, medical devices, or vehicles, which are regulated separately.

While government agencies have compiled extensive information about the ingredients in food or pharmaceuticals, the substances in many consumer products are not catalogued or tested. Regulation of consumer products has tended to occur in reaction to problems that have arisen—such as harm from a type of fire retardant formerly used in children’s sleepwear—instead of pre-emptively gathering data on what is in products.

The lack of information worries Bill Magavern, Advocacy Director of the Sierra Club California, which supports the bill. “Right now, Californians have no way of knowing what ingredients are in the products that are for sale in stores across the state,’’ he said, “and have no way of knowing whether those products are safe for their families.’’

Simitian’s SB 509 is part of an emerging “green chemistry” movement here in California. “Green chemistry is about considering cleaner, greener and safer ingredients,” said Simitian.  “Before we can have that conversation, we need to know what we’re currently using.”

The federal Toxic Control Substances Act regulates chemicals in the marketplace. But regulators have been overwhelmed by new substances and new products making use of them. Scientists are learning that very low concentrations of chemicals can cause harm to humans who use them, or to the environment when they are thrown or washed away.

Concerns have been raised, for instance, about a chemical called Bisphenol-A in baby bottles. No danger has been proven, and SB 509 does not attempt to regulate this or any other substance. But the bill would enable consumers concerned about this substance, or others, to look on the Web to see whether the substance is part of a product they are thinking about buying.

The bill will also enable consumers—either individuals or businesses—to be more environmentally astute buyers. The claims of products to be “greener” than the competition can be evaluated by judging the substances used to make them.

For more information on SB 509, visit and click on the link for Legislation.