Benzene litigation: Why it is not the new asbestos in talc


With consumer class actions pending, Seyfarth Shaw's Renée Appel asks whether benzene litigation is a trend or fad in 2023

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Did you toss your dry shampoo during your new year beauty product cleanse?  

In case you missed it, 2022 marked a year of putative class action filings around the ingredient benzene, after it was found in a number of beauty products.  

In this article, we take a look at where the surge of litigation came from and whether we expect it to continue or phase out in 2023.

What is benzene?

“Benzene, also known as benzol, is a colourless liquid with a sweet odour.”[1] 

As the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has explained, “[b]enzene is a chemical that is released into the air from emissions from automobiles and burning coal and oil. It is also used in the manufacture of a wide range of industrial products, including chemicals, dyes, detergents and some plastics.”  

The general public is exposed to benzene notwithstanding any specific product use because “[o]utdoor air contains low levels of benzene from gasoline fumes, secondhand smoke and other sources.”[2]

When benzene shows up in consumer products unintentionally, such contamination may be related to inactive ingredients such as carbomers (thickening agents), isobutane (a spray propellant), or other drug components made from hydrocarbons.

Search the FDA’s website or any of the recent product recalls related to benzene and you will see the unequivocal statement, “benzene is a carcinogen that can cause cancer in humans.”  

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