P&G lawsuits mount over cancer-causing chemical in sprays

December 22, 2021
P&G lawsuits mount over cancer-causing chemical in sprays
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Procter & Gamble Co. is facing at least 17 federal lawsuits surrounding some of its Old Spice and Secret antiperspirant sprays, alleging they are contaminated with dangerous amounts of a cancer-causing chemical, a review of court records shows.

Six of the lawsuits have been filed in federal court in Cincinnati. They are seeking class-action status. One of the most recent in Cincinnati was filed Dec. 17 on behalf of plaintiffs including two Kentucky residents and a Milford, Ohio, woman who said she used a Secret spray for at least two years.

The lawsuits come in the wake of a report issued in early November by Valisure, an independent lab in Connecticut, which found high levels of benzene – a known human carcinogen – in body-spray products from numerous companies.

Among the products tested by the lab, the highest amount of benzene was found in Old Spice Pure Sport antiperspirant and Secret Powder Fresh 24-Hour. The lab’s analysis also found high levels of benzene in products from several other companies.

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An Old Spice Pure Sport sample examined by the independent lab had an average benzene concentration of nearly 18 parts per million. The Secret Powder Fresh 24-hour aerosol measured 16 ppm.

When its use is unavoidable, the Food and Drug Administration says benzene levels should be restricted to under 2 parts per million.

Among the spray deodorants and antiperspirants from other companies with high levels of benzene were: Tag Midnight Fine Fragrance Body Spray (14 ppm); Sure Lasts All Day Unscented (11 ppm); Equate Dry Spray Cucumber (6 ppm); and Suave 24 Hour Protection Powder (5 ppm).

Last month, Procter & Gamble voluntarily recalled 18 Old Spice and Secret aerosol spray antiperspirants. The company said other Old Spice and Secret products were not impacted and could continue to be used.

And on Dec. 17, the company announced the recall of aerosol dry conditioner and shampoo sprays from Pantene, Aussie, Herbal Essences and Waterless. It said benzene had been detected in some of those products.

The company said it undertook a review of all its aerosol products after Valisure reported finding benzene in the Old Spice and Secret sprays.

Benzene, P&G noted in a statement with the recall, is not an ingredient in any of its products. The company said the benzene came from the propellant, which is produced by another manufacturer, that sprays the product out of the can. 

According to one of the recent lawsuits filed in Cincinnati, many of the products tested by the independent lab did not contain detectable levels of benzene. “It does not appear that benzene use is unavoidable for their manufacture,” the lawsuit says.

P&G spokesman Damon Jones said daily exposure to benzene at the levels detected in the recalled products “would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences.” 

“However, out of an abundance of caution, we have issued voluntary consumer recalls,” Jones said. “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the consumers who use our products and quality of the products we provide to our customers.”

Jones declined to comment on the lawsuits, saying: “We will make clear our position on the litigation in our various court filings.”

Benzene linked to cancers including leukemia

According to one of the recent lawsuits, it is widely agreed upon, both by U.S. and international agencies, that benzene causes cancer in humans. It has been linked to cancers including leukemia.

The FDA says benzene, for example, should not be used to manufacture any component of a drug “due to its unacceptable toxicity effect,” according to the lawsuit.

Lawsuits surrounding the Old Spice and Secret sprays also have been filed in federal courts in California, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Oregon.

The companies that make the other products found to contain benzene have not yet issued recalls. A search of court records found recent lawsuits against Unilever United States, which makes Suave, and the company that makes the Tag body spray.

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