As an expert in the green cleaning industry for over 20 years, I had been anxiously awaiting the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning. I was hopeful that this guide would be the resource I needed to educate people about the toxins in their conventional cleaning products. I couldn’t wait to look up the brands I’d been recommending for years to show people that “green” products really are better for them than the grocery store cleaners we’ve been using for decades. Unfortunately, when the guide was released last week, I found EWG’s grading system to be confusing from a consumer’s point of view.
EWG.org had been creating their Guide to Healthy Cleaning for over 14 months. It was to be THE source that would inform people about the dangerous ingredients in their cleaners. EWG’s overall goal is to “help consumers find safer products.” The Guide to Healthy Cleaning is the first online database with over 2000 products rated A through F for safety. Disappointingly, this database may not be as useful for a typical consumer as first thought.
A representative for EWG stated that they were looking to give consumers a guide to finding cleaning products with less hazardous ingredients. David Andrews, senior scientist for EWG, explained some of the details of their scoring system. Researchers used pictures of the labels, information available online and MSDS safety sheets to grade the products. None of the manufacturers were contacted about the guide and no products were actually tested. For example, a score given to a natural cleaner was an overall A, but a closer look reveals that the individually listed ingredients in the product showed concern. Andrews states that the product provided full disclosure, which is why it rated so well in their guide. With disclosure as a key factor in their system, a product with six “Cs” and two “Ds” can still come away with an overall A.
In looking through the guide I found the laundry soap I personally use scored an F in the ratings. Of the two ingredients rated in the soap, sodium carbonate was given an A. The other ingredient could not be identified from the label so EWG gave it an automatic F. This doesn’t mean the ingredient is unsafe, just unidentifiable. In most grading systems an average of an A and an F would have at least produced a C –, but unfortunately for my soap, they received an overall F. http://www.ewg.org/guides/cleaners/5475-CharliesSoapHELaundryLiquid
Andrews stated that they are currently working with companies willing to give them additional information. The database seems to be changing constantly. Scoring for a company called Better Life has brought one of their cleaners from an F to a C overnight. It further states, “EWG is updating the Guide to Healthy Cleaning to reflect new label information from Better Life”. The Method Company’s scores have been totally removed from the guide. A pop up on the site states EWG is working with Method to update their scores.
Dana Ravech, a mother and an active member of Medfield Green, was very excited to see that the report had been published. She immediately opened the database and entered her favorite “green” cleaners. She was shocked to see that they were rated so poorly. She then entered some of the products she knew contained dangerous chemicals and was surprised that they got higher scores than the products she’s been using. “This makes me doubt not only the study, but its motives.” states Ravech. “I’m now questioning all the grading systems of EWG’s databases.”
While this guide may be a resource for people looking to find safer cleaning products, it may also confuse them. Many of the companies that have worked very hard to create safe products for their customers have scores that don’t reflect their efforts. Even though full disclosure is important, the consumer needs this guide to be a true resource for finding the safest cleaning products available to them. Hopefully EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning will become what I was looking for initially – a true resource to find the safest cleaning products.