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Sunscreen With Leukemia-Causing Benzene Is Latest Summer Worry

  • Concern mounts as warm weather beckons people back to beaches
  • Small exposures add up, says researcher who set off 1977 alarm
 The carcinogen benzene has been found in some sunscreens.
Source: iStockphoto

Four decades ago, the U.S. government used rarely deployed emergency powers to reduce workers’ exposure to benzene, a chemical linked to a five-fold increased risk of potentially deadly leukemia.

After a landmark study in 1977 highlighted its health risks, employers and manufacturers were forced to limit the industrial compound in their workplaces. Yet just within the past few months, elevated levels of benzene have appeared in some hand sanitizers, and on Tuesday, an analysis by an independent testing lab revealed its presence in some sunscreens and after-sun skin soothers.

While the amounts found in skin products have been relatively small – far less toxic than the doses that resulted in blood cancers and regulatory action – they’re still spurring alarm from public health experts, especially as people are set to head outside for the warm summer months and children all over the country get slathered in sunscreen. More questions are being raised about how benzene was allowed into the common lotions, and how to keep it out.