What’s lurking under your sink can kill you: Get even more aware about pink

Are you a label reader? I’ve long scrutinized ingredient lists in the grocery store aisle- starting years ago with calories and fat, of course, and once I became a mom, checking for sugar, corn syrup and hormone-free. Then, as I learned more about quality pet nutrition, I started to scope out dog food with a lean protein as the first ingredient.

Ingredients matter beyond we put into our bodies too, but far fewer people read the labels on their household cleaners, personal care products and paper products. I rarely do, even though during my career I’ve counted Seventh Generation, Marcal’s Small Steps and Paw Safe as clients. These brands all made a point of listing their natural ingredients and substitutes for harsh chemicals. In addition, Seventh Generation and Marcal also took tougher advocacy positions, calling on industry to mandate ingredient disclosures.

Indeed as the nation talks about breast cancer prevention and research during October, shouldn’t the conversation also extend to address the proven and potential negative health effects of the chemicals that are in our every day household products – in and on our bodies, as well as whether it ends up in our drinking water after going down the drain. The call for that sort of linkage so far is limited to more radical consumers and natural product brands.

Perhaps the tide is slowly turning. Just a couple of months ago Johnson & Johnson announced plans to remove a slew of chemicals like formaldehyde (a carcinogen), parabens and phthalates that have potentially cancer-causing side effects, from its line of consumer products by the end of 2015. They already pledged to do so from baby products for next year. Now the removal will extend across brands like Neutrogena, Aveeno and Clean & Clear. This will allow the company to have a straight face when it publicizes its community work helping cancer patients.

Much of the credit for the change belongs to the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy group that’s been working on gathering facts to use in a campaign to remove cancer-causing ingredients from food and products for years. They publish consumer guides to healthy cleaning, healthy eating and other topics.

So next time you see one of the month’s ubiquitous pink ribbons and wonder how much more aware you could possibly be on the topic of breast cancer, make a point to read the labels on your personal care and household cleaning products to see if you are helping to get at one of the known root causes of a killer disease.