Widespread Cosmetic Benzene Contamination: Dozens of Products Tested With Carcinogen Levels Thousands of Times Above EPA Recommended Limits.
Benzene is a Group A human carcinogen linked largely to blood cancers such as leukemia, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The United States Food and Drug Administration lists contact with the skin, inhalation, and ingestion as all constituting carcinogenic exposure. Increased risk of cancer can be achieved through very low concentrations of benzene: the EPA’s maximum exposure recommendation is 5 parts per 1,000,000,000, or billion.
Widespread Cosmetic Benzene Contamination leads to recall
Because of the extremely detrimental nature of benzene, dozens of products were recently recalled after the discovery of widespread benzene contamination in testing results published by third-party pharmacy Valisure in March 2021.
These products include aerosol deodorants, dry shampoos/conditioners, and some hand sanitizers and athlete’s foot treatments including Sure, Brut, and Secret aerosol deodorants; Coppertone aerosol sunscreen; Neutrogena and Aveeno brand sunscreen products owned by Johnson & Johnson; Tinactin and Lotrimin antifungal sprays; Artnaturals and other brand hand sanitizers; and multiple Proctor & Gamble owned brands of dry shampoo and conditioner including Herbal Essences, Pantene, Aussie, Waterless, Hair Food, and Old Spice. Testing of some of these products revealed benzene levels thousands of times over the benzene limit recommended by the EPA.
Benzene contamination source unknown
It is currently unknown what causes product contamination with benzene, but some scientists believe that it may be related to petroleum-derived ingredients in the aerosol propellant.
A statement was released by the Personal Care Products Council, a group representing industrial interests – of course, deflecting responsibility from the manufacturing process and downplaying the danger that benzene poses to consumers.
“Benzene is a chemical that is ubiquitous in the environment and not an intentionally added ingredient in personal care products. People worldwide are exposed daily to benzene from indoor and outdoor sources, including air, drinking water, and food and beverages. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and product manufacturers are aware that it may be present in food and drug products at trace levels, and those very low levels do not pose a safety concern for consumers.
“Based on exposure modeling and cancer risk assessments published by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), daily exposure to benzene in personal care products would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences.”
Lack of FDA Oversight
A senior scientist from the Environmental Working Group cautions people from using all spray or aerosolized products until more is known about the mechanism and degree of exposure. He also called for greater regulation and quality testing for this dangerous toxin: “This is a piece of a larger issue in terms of the lack of FDA oversight and authority with respect to consumer personal care product manufacturing and regulation of contaminants.”
This whole affair highlights the degree to which the FDA is hamstrung by the limits of their authority – they are unable to force recalls on over-the-counter products and can only issue public warnings when contaminations are discovered. However, there is no imperative by the FDA to quality test these products for highly toxic contaminants like benzene unless the issue is brought to the light of public scrutiny – the FDA only acted to confirm the results reported by Valisure.
Discovery of Benzene contamination accidental
“The FDA itself asks companies to investigate. It’s really up to the company to either do a recall or not and to define the scope of the recall,” said David Light, CEO of Valisure. The scope of the recall includes reporting where this product may have been sold, and “this is all kind of proprietary information to the manufacturers, and we have no way of knowing,” said Light. Meaning that the recent recalls that specify lot numbers or specific retailers may not address the full universe of potentially contaminated products.
This discovery of widespread benzene contamination across suites of products was largely accidental: Valisure was involved in contractual quality testing for pharmacies and only recently added benzene testing to their suite of tests, not anticipating actually finding any concentrations of the chemical as it is a banned ingredient. However, product, after product came back with levels of contamination far above the EPA, recommended limit. After testing multiple hand sanitizers, Valisure began to inspect the issue further.
“Not only did we see some products that had benzene in it, but it also appeared to be a broad problem,” Light said. “Benzene is an extremely cheap solvent [and] it’s a great solvent, it works very well to make chemicals. But as the FDA itself says, very clearly, it should not be used for that.”
Hand sanitizers particularly contaminated by Benzene
The presence of benzene in hand sanitizers, in general, appears to be a consequence of relaxed manufacturing standards by the FDA in response to the pandemic. Due to widespread shortages, the FDA allowed companies to make sanitizers from lower grade ethanol than what was previously permitted, as long as benzene testing was conducted to keep benzene levels under 2 parts per 1,000,000, or million (already four hundred times the level recommended by the EPA).
This appears to have directly led to the flood of hand sanitizers on the market with high levels of benzene contamination: the FDA has publicly warned of more than 250 contaminated batches. The agency withdrew its temporary guidance for alcohol-based hand sanitizers in October 2021, effective December 2021.
The FDA in its warning about contaminated hand sanitizers recommended that contaminated products be disposed of in a hazardous waste container.
Widespread Cosmetic Benzene Contamination leads to class action lawsuits
Several class-action lawsuits have been filed against multiple corporate manufacturers, including Walmart for contaminated products in their Equate brand, CVS, Prestige Consumer Healthcare, and others. Claimants allege that the manufacturers should have known of the levels of benzene in their products – especially since even low-level exposure has been shown to be contributory to increased cancer risk.
Benzene Leukemia? Contact Dr. Malik Law Firm for help
If you or a loved one have been exposed to benzene and developed a form of leukemia or other blood-related diseases such as acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL), you should contact us immediately.
Information and commentary provided by Dallas Fort Worth Personal Injury Attorney Dr. Shezad Malik. The Dr. Shezad Malik Law Firm can be contacted in Dallas at 214-390-3189. If you or a loved one has been injured from Benzene exposure, please fill out our contact card for a free consultation.
Shezad Malik is an Internal Medicine and Cardiology specialist, a Texas Medical Doctor (retired) and Defective Medical Device and Dangerous Drug Attorney. Dr. Shezad Malik Law Firm has offices based in Fort Worth and Dallas and represents people who have suffered catastrophic and serious personal injuries including wrongful death, caused by the negligence or recklessness of others.