At least 17 federal lawsuits have been filed against Procter & Gamble Co. (P&G) alleging that its Old Spice and Secret antiperspirant sprays contain dangerous levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen. In the past, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned that benzene levels should not exceed 2 parts per million. The FDA further cautioned that benzene should not be used to manufacture any part of a drug due to its toxicity. P&G voluntarily recalled certain lots of Old Spice and Secret aerosol sprays sold in the United States due to the presence of benzene.
Evidence Links Benzene and Cancer
Benzene is a colorless and flammable chemical that is formed from both natural processes and human activities. It is used as a composite material in producing plastics, lubricants, dyes, detergents, and pesticides. Benzene is also a natural product of gasoline and crude oil. People are primarily exposed to benzene by inhalation or contact through the skin. The rates of leukemia, particularly acute myeloid leukemia (AML), were shown to be higher in examinations of workers who were exposed to high levels of benzene through their occupations.
Several studies by expert agencies have determined that benzene can cause cancer.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies benzene as “carcinogenic to humans.” IARC has noted a link between benzene and AML, acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL), chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) categorizes benzene as a known human carcinogen for all methods of exposure.
- The National Toxicology Program (NTP), comprised of a number of U.S. government agencies, including the National Institutes of Health, the Centers for Disease Control, and the FDA, similarly classifies benzene as a cancer-causing chemical.
Lawsuits Against P&G for Benzene Contamination Escalate
Federal lawsuits against P&G allege that dangerous levels of benzene were found in aerosol products sold to plaintiffs. Six of the 17 claims were filed in federal court in Cincinnati and are seeking to be filed as a class action lawsuit. Lawsuits against P&G regarding Old Spice and Secret have also been filed in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon.
A report issued in November 2021 by Valisure, an independent lab, detected high levels of benzene in body sprays produced by multiple companies. The highest levels of benzene were found in Old Spice Pure Sport antiperspirant and Secret Powder Fresh 24-Hour. A sample of Old Spice Pure Sport that was assessed by Valisure found an average benzene concentration of nearly 18 parts per million. Secret Powder Fresh 24-hour aerosol had a concentration of nearly 16 parts per million.
Following the Valisure report, P&G voluntarily recalled the affected products. In December 2021, P&G announced another recall of aerosol dry conditioner and shampoo sprays made by Pantene, Aussie, Herbal Essences, and Waterless for benzene contamination. In its recall, P&G claimed that benzene is not an ingredient in its products, but rather a product of the propellant that releases the product from the can. P&G noted that the propellant is produced by another company.