Benzene is a known carcinogen that is banned in the US and most of the world. Still, there are several benzene-related recalls every year, including a sweeping recall of 19 dry shampoo products manufactured by Unilever in October 2022. Why does benzene contamination keep happening?
What is Benzene?
Benzene is a colorless or yellow liquid chemical compound. It’s derived from crude oil and petroleum products and is a common ingredient in industrial applications. Benzene is used to produce plastics, resins, rubber and lubricants. These applications rarely pose a risk to humans.
However, benzene is also used in synthetic fibers, detergents, drugs and pesticides. These applications are much more likely to directly impact humans.
Why is Benzene in Food and Personal Care Products?
Benzene is not an added ingredient to food or personal care products themselves, but it can be found in packaging, poorly maintained storage facilities, and contaminated water. It can also be created within products when exposed to high temperatures.
Benzene’s Cancer Risk
Most human exposure to benzene isn’t in sunscreens or shampoos. The chemical turns to gas in certain conditions, making it a dangerous risk to indoor air quality. According to the American Cancer Society, the workplace is the most common exposure site, especially for those who work in industrial or manufacturing settings, including:
- Oil refineries
- Chemical plants
- Shoe manufacturing
- Apparel manufacturing
Does Benzene Cause Cancer?
It’s a known human carcinogen and has been closely linked with leukemia and other types of blood cancer. Most of the evidence shows elevated exposure to benzene causes acute myeloid leukemia, with suggested links to other types of the disease. The chemical isn’t a known risk for other types of cancer, though more research is needed.
Benzene Exposure at Recall Levels: Am I Safe?
At the level of exposure associated with most personal care products, there is little risk of adverse health consequences, even with sustained daily use. However, there are no safe levels of benzene and the chemical’s impact on individuals is unpredictable.
We recommend following the FDA for the latest recall advisories.
Supporting Cancer Prevention by Reducing Chemical Exposures
Contact your local legislators to learn more about their position on chemicals in manufacturing and other risks. We need regulators to lower acceptable usage amounts of benzene and other chemicals to reduce the risk of accidental exposure.
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