The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) classifies benzene as a human carcinogen, according to the agency’s recall notice.
The Voluntary Recall
The FDA released the recall notice on September 30, 2021, noting that the recall was a voluntary one on Coppertone’s part.
The recall focuses on specific lots of five different Coppertone aerosol sunscreen products with manufacturing dates between January 10–June 15, 2021. The products included in the voluntary recall are:
- Coppertone Pure & Simple SPF 50 (5.0 oz) aerosol sunscreen spray—(Lot# TN00CJ4, Lot# TN00BR2)
- Coppertone Pure & Simple Kids SPF 50 (5.0 oz) aerosol sunscreen spray—(Lot# TN00857, Lot# TN00CJV, Lot# TN00854, Lot# TN00855)
- Coppertone Pure & Simple Baby SPF 50 (5.0 oz) aerosol sunscreen spray—(Lot# TN009GH, Lot# TN0083K, Lot# TN0083J)
- Coppertone Sport Mineral SPF 50 (5.0 oz) aerosol sunscreen spray—(Lot# TN008KU, Lot# TN008KV)
- Travel-size Coppertone Sport Spray SPF 50 (1.6 oz) aerosol sunscreen spray—(Lot# TN00BU3)
In each case, Coppertone packaged the product in an aerosol can, so consumers can apply it by spraying. Coppertone recommends that purchasers immediately stop using the affected products, dispose of them appropriately, and contact Coppertone for a refund.
Coppertone also intends to contact retailers and arrange for returns of the affected sunscreen lots, according to the recall notice. Furthermore, the company created a website with more information on the recall. The site includes contact information for the company and information on how to request a refund.
Effects of Benzene
Coppertone’s recall decision follows on the discovery of benzene in the affected products. The FDA classifies benzene as a human carcinogen. In some cases, benzene exposure can increase the risk of certain cancer types, including leukemia and bone marrow blood cancer. It can also increase the risk of other blood disorders.
Because benzene evaporates into the air very quickly, individuals can inhale it during the use of aerosol products that contain it. People can also absorb benzene through the skin or ingested, according to a Centers for Disease Control (CDC) fact sheet.
Cases of benzene poisoning range from mild to severe. It depends on the amount of benzene involved, the length of the exposure, and the nature of exposure. A patient’s age can also factor into the seriousness of a case of benzene poisoning, says the CDC. The presence of certain pre-existing medical conditions can also impact the severity of a benzene poisoning case.
Symptoms of benzene poisoning include drowsiness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, headaches, tremors, confusion, and unconsciousness. In the worst cases, death can result. Ingestion of benzene can result in vomiting or stomach irritation. Topical exposure can cause injury or irritation to the tissues exposed.
The amount of exposure is an essential factor in benzene injury. So far, the exposure posed by the affected Coppertone products appears to be low. “Daily exposure to benzene at the levels detected in these affected Coppertone aerosol sunscreen spray products would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences based on generally accepted exposure modeling by numerous regulatory agencies,” the FDA stated in the voluntary recall notice.
What to Expect in the Courts
As of now, Coppertone has not reported hearing of any instances of benzene in affected products harming consumers. It is not inconceivable, however, that such a claim might appear in the future.
For anyone seeking damages against Coppertone regarding the presence of benzene in recalled sunscreens, the challenge will likely lie in proving causation.
Benzene is one of the top 20 chemicals in the US by production volume. As such, benzene is a common presence in most people’s daily lives. Tobacco smoke, gas stations, vehicle exhaust, and industrial emissions contribute to benzene levels in the air, according to the CDC. In many indoor spaces, benzene levels are even higher. Common products like glue, paint, and various cleaners may contain benzene.
Benzene can be found in the natural environment as well, often in extremely hot sources like volcanoes and forest fires. It is also in crude oil and some oil products, like gasoline. Benzene is also an ingredient in cigarette smoke, which the CDC calls “a major source of benzene exposure.”
It is possible for Coppertone to face liability in the future due to the benzene found in the recalled sunscreens. However, it will be imperative to make causation clear in order to win such a case.
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