Mold, silica, microplastics, nanotubes, and a myriad of chemical compounds are just some examples of what tort lawyers have identified as the “next asbestos” over the past several decades. This phrase is now commonly used to identify the public health threats resulting from exposure and the consequential damages and liabilities facing businesses of all shapes and sizes. Any liability approaching that of asbestos has equally significant insurance coverage ramifications. Benzene may be the newest “next asbestos.”
This summer, Johnson & Johnson issued a voluntary recall of numerous aerosol sunscreen products after testing identified low levels of benzene. See Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. Issues Voluntary Recall of Specific NEUTROGENA and AVEENO Aerosol Sunscreen Products Due to the Presence of Benzene (July 14, 2021). The voluntary recall came months after an independent laboratory found benzene in 78 sunscreen and after-sun care products. See Valisure Detects Benzene in Sunscreen, Valisure (May 25, 2021). Benzene is a colorless, flammable liquid and is classified as a human carcinogen. The toxicity of benzene in humans has been established for over 120 years, with studies from 1939 stating that “exposure over a long period of time to any concentration of benzene greater than zero is not safe.” Id. While immediate symptoms of exposure to benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, or a rapid or irregular heartbeat; long-term exposure to benzene can result in a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia, fertility issues, and irregular menstrual periods. See Facts About Benzene, CDC. Recent studies show that high levels of benzene may contribute to the development of certain cancers such as leukemia. Id.