The website tells us that "One summer a few years ago, Dara O’Rourke was doing what he’d done dozens of times before: putting sunscreen on his five-year old daughter Minju before she went outside to play in the summer sun. The thought occurred to Dara, "I wonder what’s really in this stuff?" So being a Professor at the University of California-Berkeley, Dara researched the sunscreen. What he found was surprising and disturbing: the sunscreen he’d been putting on Minju for years had a toxic ingredient."
So he set up a new venture to provide "the most comprehensive, credible, and useful information in the world, on products and companies delivered whenever and wherever you need it."
Founder Dara O'Rourke in Wired
It is a wonderful idea, with over 60,000 products ranging from the health food store brands to the big industrial producers. You can browse, you can check out what you normally buy, and you can check before you go shopping to make sure that your choice has the highest rating.
How do they rate products? "GoodGuide's system takes into account both the impacts of a company's operations on its workers and local communities, and the impacts of using a specific product on your health. Our team has gathered data on important health hazards such as cancer risks, reproductive health hazards, mutagenicity, endocrine disruption, respiratory hazards, and skin and eye irritation. Our research currently uses a simplified health hazard assessment process that allows us to rate thousands of products along standard criteria."
Founder O'Rourke was interviewed in Wired: "Most shampoos are pretty similar, so there isn't a lot of difference for most products, but there are some where your purchase can make a huge difference," O'Rourke said. "There's no question that there's still huge gaps in the data, but we're taking a big step forward on what is the most comprehensive and reliable set of data ever made available to the public for free." ::Wired
Soon it will be available on your cellphone: type in the UPC number and you will get the product rating and information.
But Does It Work?
That is a good question. TreeHugger has been on a bender over gender benders, or endocrine disruptors, which are one of the health hazards that the website looks for. Our resident chemist John Laumer has written about Triclosan, which has been found to be "an endocrine disrupter at concentrations found in North American streams" (read There’s A Frog Disruptor In My Soap)
I searched on Triclosan on the GoodGuide site, and two antibacterial hand sanitizers came up. I clicked on the one with a very high 7.9 rating, and found that there was no mention of the fact that such hand sanitizers have been questioned because they are possibly contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria, (read Antibacterial Cleaners Do More Harm Than Good) or that others were questioning the use of Triclosan in any consumer products.
GoodGuide "recognizes that even the most quantitative assessment of environmental, health, or social issues requires value judgments about the relative importance of various issues" and may have decided that since Triclosan is perfectly legal, and in a lot of products, it gets a pass.
It may see nothing wrong with antibacterial hand cleaners, even though microbiologists ask "What is this stuff doing in households when we have soaps?These substances really belong in hospitals and clinics, not in the homes of healthy people."
But I would have preferred to see a red flag or qualification. Other than that it is a wonderful tool that everyone should use before they shop again. ::GoodGuide