POISONED PROTECTION: Could dangerous chemicals be lurking in your hand sanitizer?

Special Reports

TYLER, Texas (KETK) – An update on a recall that gathered nationwide attention.

Five Johnson & Johnson sunscreen products are no longer in stores after it was discovered they may have contained dangerous benzene.

But these kinds of discoveries don’t always lead to action.

Tonight, a KETK News investigation months in the making.

A study conducted by the same lab is revealing this extremely toxic chemical may also be in common hand sanitizers still being used every day.

KETK today anchor Perry Elyaderani looked into these products, and why they’re still on store shelves.

In this KETK News exclusive, “Poisoned Protection”

Our investigation began in March when independent lab Valisure announced it detected high levels of a benzene, a known carcinogen, in batches of commonly sold hand sanitizers.

David Light, Valisure CEO said, “Honestly, I thought at the time that probably was a waste. Like, why look for something that has been banned for so long?”

But after testing hundreds of sanitizers, Valisure CEO David Light says the benzene problem, becoming clear. Some products testing at eight times what the FDA currently allows. And the FDA says it only accepts that small level to help manufacturers meet high pandemic demand. The amount of benzene it normally allows is zero.

“The FDA even says this should not be used, period, in drug products,” David Light said.

So Valisure petitioned the FDA to issue a recall for these products, citing public health concerns about benzene. Studies show that the carcinogen absorbs through the skin.

And the chief scientist at the environmental working group tells us with products that are re-applied like hand sanitizer, consumers could be exposing themselves several times a day.

“So it seems pretty straightforward from a public health perspective. These are products that shouldn’t be on the market,” said Senior Scientist at Environmental Working Group David Andrews.

But they are.

Weeks after Valisure’s petition, we found retailers still selling seven of these products online, some even on clearance.

And a couple of these potentially harmful products, still on store shelves.

Including Walmart’s, where we purchased hand sanitizer by Art Naturals, batches of which tested for the highest concentration of benzene in Valisure’s report.

And at Hobby Lobby, a hand sanitizer with baby Yoda on the label. Batches of this product, made by “Best Brands”, not only tested two times over the FDA limit for benzene, but according to Andrews, has branding that appeals to children who are especially vulnerable.

“It’s during those critical periods of development where chemicals can have more potent effects,” Andrews said.

Light acknowledges recalls do take time. Retailers may not know the brands manufacturing the products are exceeding FDA limits and even the manufacturers themselves may not know until a study like this comes out.

And to complicate things, Light notes that not all batches are the same.

“It could have been made in different facilities, it could have been made with different batches of alcohol that might have been contaminated. It’s it’s almost… It is impossible for us to know,” Light said.

So we held our investigation while the FDA told us they’re looking into Valisure’s research.

But flash forward three months and the FDA tells us there are no updates.

So we followed up with their CEO.

“It’s frustrating that it’s taking this long,” Light said.

20 out of the 21 hand sanitizers that Valisure said have batches with high benzene remain on the market, including those products we found months ago at Walmart and Hobby Lobby. And without testing each batch, there’s no way for consumers to know the levels of benzene in these products.

We reached out to both retailers and product manufacturers for an interview.

All declined or didn’t respond.

But the manufacturer for the baby Yoda hand sanitizer did issue a statement to KETK News, writing:

“As soon as we learned of the petition sent to the FDA, Best Brands thoroughly investigated…and no benzene was detected in any of the samples – including the one lot named in the petition.”

Light is standing behind his company’s research…noting that it was verified by two other labs, including one at Yale.

“The bottles that we’ve analyzed in our facility, that we bought in the stores here around in Connecticut and other retailers… The benzene is very clear and the science is very solid,” Light said.

“What this testing shows is that this company found and alerted the FDA to numerous products that weren’t even meeting their weakened standards under COVID. And yet the FDA hasn’t done anything,” David Andrews said.

Light says that may be due to the fact that the FDA can’t actually force companies into recalls.

“So they can request that a manufacturer does a recall. But recalls are really up to the manufacturers to conduct,” Light said.

In statement, the FDA writes that it: “continues to test hand sanitizer products and proactively work with companies, when appropriate, to recall products.”

But the environmental working group says relying on manufacturers to do the right thing…isn’t always a safe bet.

“It seems like it should be straightforward, that when companies test their products for contamination, they should send that information to the food and drug administration, the FDA, so that they can make a determination whether or not it should stay on store shelves,” David Andrews said.

In the absence of a stricter FDA rules, Andrews says the only option people really have is to look up studies for these kinds of products yourself and hope they’re still accurate.

And while it may not give you a quick answer, you can actually send in these products to labs like Valisure. They’ll test it for free and send you the results.

“The more data we’re able to collect on these issues, hopefully the faster we can get action on them,” Light said.

Providing some peace of mind in an environment where Light says consumers can get very little.

Now there are a lot of products included in Valisure’s study and they say less than 20% of them tested at high benzene levels.

You can see Valisure’s full report, including its petition to the FDA and the products the company studied, here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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