Another ‘Next Asbestos’: Considerations for Benzene Third Party Liability Insurance Coverage

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Mold, silica, microplastics, nanotubes and a myriad of chemical compounds are just a few examples of what liability lawyers have identified as the “next asbestos” over the past decades. This phrase is now commonly used to identify threats to public health resulting from exposure and the consequent damages and liabilities faced by businesses of all shapes and sizes. Any liability approaching that of asbestos has equally important insurance coverage ramifications. Benzene may be the newest “next asbestos”.

This summer, Johnson & Johnson issued a voluntary recall of many aerosolized sunscreen products after tests identified low levels of benzene. See Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. Issuing a Voluntary Recall of Specific NEUTROGENA and AVEENO Aerosol Sunscreen Products Due to Presence of Benzene (July 14, 2021). The voluntary recall came months after an independent laboratory found benzene in 78 sunscreens and after-sun care products. See Valisure detects benzene in sunscreen, Valisure (May 25, 2021). Benzene is a colorless, flammable liquid and is classified as a human carcinogen. The toxicity of benzene in humans has been established for over 120 years, with studies from 1939 indicating that “exposure over a long period of time to any concentration of benzene above zero is not safe”. Identifier. While the immediate symptoms of exposure to benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, or a fast or irregular heartbeat; Long-term exposure to benzene can cause a decrease in red blood cells, leading to anemia, fertility problems and irregular periods. See Benzene facts, CDC. Recent studies show that high levels of benzene can contribute to the development of certain cancers such as leukemia. Identifier.


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