Odor-Eaters spray products recalled over cancer-causing chemical

Odor-Eaters has recalled dozens of lots of its aerosol spray products over contamination with low levels of benzene, a known human carcinogen linked to blood cancers. The products are designed to spray on feet in order to reduce odor and treat athlete's foot, a fungal condition that can occur in athletes who frequently work up a sweat while wearing shoes.

Recall details

Benzene, according to the American Cancer Society, is a chemical that can occur naturally and that is used as part of the manufacturing process for a variety of common materials and substances like dyes and plastics. Exposure to the chemical — often at high levels — has been linked to leukemia and certain other cancers like non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma.

According to Blistex Inc., the company that owns Odor-Eaters, is it voluntarily recalling two different aerosol products sold under the brand due to testing that showed low levels of benzene. As of the date the recall was published, the company said that it hadn't received any reports of issues related to these products.

The recall covers 41 lots of the Odor-Eaters products; consumers can determine whether they own one of the recalled spray cans by checking the identifying details, including lot numbers and UPCs, listed in the recall notice on the FDA's website. According to the company, the recalled Odor-Eaters products were sold across the US at multiple retailers. Anyone who owns these recalled cans is advised to stop using them.

Health risks

According to the CDC, benzene is one of the most commonly used chemicals in the United States and exposure to the substance can happen in many different ways. Furniture wax, certain paint and glue fumes, cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and gas stations may all result in exposure to benzene.

The agency explains how exposure to the chemical may lead to serious health problems, noting that benzene disrupts cells in a way that prevents them from functioning correctly. The effects experienced, however, depend on things like how long an individual is exposed to benzene, how the exposure occurs, and the level of exposure.

Recent benzene recalls

This isn't the first consumer product recall we've seen this year due to benzene contamination. In October, Coppertone recalled some of its aerosol sunscreen products over the chemical, as did Bayer with some of its aerosol antifungal sprays Lotrimin AF and Tinactin. Johnson & Johnson recalled some of its sunscreen products in July over benzene contamination, as well.

Given the health concerns surrounding benzene, it's not surprising that steps have been taken to reduce its use in the United States. According to the EPA, Mobile Source Air Toxics regulations went into effect to reduce the amount of benzene and other toxic pollutants in the air.

Ongoing concerns

Concerns about this chemical remain, however, and incidents of industrial levels exceeding the EPA's rules have surfaced. In April, Reuters reported that 13 oil refineries in the US were found to have released excessive levels of benzene in 2020. These emissions are particularly harmful for the communities that exist near the refineries, often impacting individuals who are already disadvantaged.

The EPA has increased its focus on addressing the disproportionate impact of pollutants and other waste problems on certain communities around the US. The agency has made equitable access to recycling programs a key aspect of its recently announced 2021 national recycling program,

The agency explained that improper management of waste and facilities that process waste can have major impacts on the surrounding communities, including potentially causing serious health consequences in residents chronically exposed to pollutants.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has published a report detailing the historic impacts of exposure to waste and chemicals in the US (via CDC), as well as the work that has taken place over recent decades to address this problem.

The Center for Effective Government has worked hard to draw attention to the disproportionate impact pollutants have on low-impact communities, particularly among people of color.

Many children across the US are exposed to toxic chemicals, according to a report from the group, which found that almost 1 out of 10 kids in the US attend a school located within a mile of a "dangerous chemical facility." The EPA has conducted a large body of research into childhood chemical exposure to determine its impact and develop more effective ways to mitigate the problem.

Despite these efforts, horrific stories of communities facing disaster due to improper waste management have surfaced.

Earlier this year, residents in Tampa, Florida, expressed frustrated pleas for help over a wastewater pond that nearly caused a local environmental disaster. The Guardian reported in April that more than 300 families were forced to evacuate from the region surrounding an abandoned fertilizer plant that was near the point of spilling over into the Tampa Bay region, which would have contaminated the groundwater and other parts of the environment.

Though disaster was ultimately averted, the larger problem remains, and it is similar to ones facing other communities throughout the US. Nonprofit Waterkeeper Alliance general counsel Daniel Estrin warned in a statement at the time that climate change will impact these sites going forward due to more frequent and stronger storms, compounding an already existing problem (via The New York Times).