J&J recalls spray sunscreens after testing found traces of cancer-causing chemical

neutrogena sunscreens
Cans of Neutrogena UltraSheer aerosol sunscreen are seen, Thursday, July 15, 2021, in Marple Township, Pa.

  • Johnson & Johnson is recalling five Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreen products.
  • An investigation found small amounts of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical, in the sunscreen.
  • J&J said use of the products would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson is recalling five Neutrogena and Aveeno sunscreen products after tests revealed small amounts of benzene, a cancer-causing chemical.

The company announced the recall on Wednesday, noting that most of its spray sunscreens were affected. J&J is asking consumers to stop using:

  1. Neutrogena Beach Defense aerosol sunscreen
  2. Neutrogena CoolDry Sport aerosol sunscreen
  3. Neutrogena Invisible Daily Defense aerosol sunscreen
  4. Neutrogena UltraSheer aerosol sunscreen.
  5. Aveeno Protect + Refresh aerosol sunscreen

J&J said the move is out of an “abundance of caution,” and that daily exposure to benzene at such low levels would not be expected to cause adverse health consequences. Retailers will be notified to stop selling the products and return them to J&J.

The move comes just over a month after a lab singled out these products among 40 other sunscreen products as risky, saying they were contaminated with benzenes.

Valisure, a pharmaceutical testing company, tested 294 batches of sunscreen from 69 different brands. The other benzene-containing sunscreens included some products by Banana Boat, Walgreens, and CVS Health.

J&J said it tested the sunscreens in an independent laboratory to corroborate the results, and is now investigating how the chemical made its way into the products.

Repeated exposure to the benzene in large amounts is linked to cancers such as leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

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A bad hurricane season could be the next headache for businesses already facing a supply shortage

iota monday morn
Satellite imagery captures Hurricane Iota bearing down on Nicaragua as a Category 5 hurricane on November 16, 2020. NOAA/NASA

  • It will be another active year for hurricanes following 2020’s record-breaking season.
  • The storms could cause problems for already struggling supply chains like lumber, oil, and pork.
  • “It’s a significant risk that all businesses need to be thinking about right now,” said AccuWeather.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A bad Atlantic hurricane season may be the next disruption to the supply chain.

“It looks like another active year,” said AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter, “which is not good news.”

Items from lumber and housing supplies, to toilet paper and tampons, to gas and plastics, to pork and chicken, have been plagued by shortages caused by a sting of factors: Supply chains snarled in the coronavirus pandemic, backed-up ports, reverberations from the February Texas freeze, the Suez Canal blockage, worker scarcity, and the temporary shutdown of a vital oil pipeline, among other issues.

Though meteorologists aren’t predicting the Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November, will be as record-breaking as 2020, they’re saying the number of named storms and hurricanes will be higher than in a normal year.

DTN, a Minnesota-based analytics firm, is predicting 20 named storms, compared to the annual average of 12. Of those, nine will be hurricanes, and four will be major hurricanes of category 3 or stronger. AccuWeather had similar predictions of 16 to 20 named storms, seven to 10 becoming hurricanes, and three to five to becoming major hurricanes.

The economic impact from last year’s hurricane season, which had six category 3 or higher storms, was about $60 to $65 billion in damage and losses, according to AccuWeather.

“The combination of another enhanced hurricane season and the threat of landfall across a big section of the East Coast of the US this year will be disruptive to the supply chain,” said Renny Vandewege, a leading weather expert at DTN.

Read more: Morgan Stanley says the stock market is flashing early warning signs of weakness as businesses face supply shortages. It recommends investors make these 4 trades to avoid the risks ahead.

Vandewege said the storms are more likely to favor the East Coast this year, compared to 2020, when the Gulf Coast felt a heavier impact.

The storms could “disrupt really anything that’s being imported in,” Vandewege said.

“We’re already having a months-long backup at the Port of Los Angeles, and then if we had also the same thing on the East Coast for an extended period of time, it could phenomenally exacerbate product shortages,” said Chris Wolfe, chief executive officer of logistics company PowerFleet.

Storms affect a state’s big industries, too. Along the Texas gulf coast, hurricanes can have an impact on the chemical and the oil and gas industries. A storm there could echo issues that arose from the Texas freeze in February and the six-day Colonial Pipeline shutdown that caused gas prices to surge and prompted some East Coast residents to panic-buy gas.

The forestry industry could be “deeply impacted” as well, Vandewege said. “There’s been shortage on building materials, and that could be enhanced even more if we’re seeing key manufacturing areas shut down around Louisiana and Alabama” because of a hurricane.

Pork, which is heavily produced in North Carolina and other southern states, has faced shortages in the past year, as well, thanks to the pandemic.

When hurricanes, like Florence in 2018, have struck the state in the past, thousands of hogs died. Other livestock and agriculture are also at risk when hurricanes hit.

“There’s huge pork production, chicken production, all the way through the South,” Wolfe said, so storms “could dirsupt food supplies.”

Porter from AccuWeather also noted that the West Coast could see another damaging wild fire season, and he said companies have to prepare ahead of time. “It’s a significant risk that all businesses need to be thinking about right now,” he said. “What’s their vulnerabilities and plan to mitigate.”

Climate change and extreme weather events topped the World Economic Forum’s list of biggest global risks in 2020. That was no surprise to Porter, who said, “people are getting negatively impacted almost on a daily basis by weather events. He said for businesses, the supply chain is a “major component” of that.

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Inside the US government’s top-secret bioweapons lab

  • Dugway Proving Ground tests and stores some of the deadliest chemical and biological agents on Earth.
  • The facility, which opened in 1942, covers about 800,000 acres – larger than the state of Rhode Island.
  • Past experiments include weaponized mosquitoes and fleas, as well as tests with deadly diseases such as anthrax.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: In 1968, about 6,000 sheep died near this government facility. They were poisoned by a chemical weapon named VX.

The US hasn’t been known to actively use VX in combat. In fact, it’s begun destroying its stockpile of chemical munitions as part of a UN treaty. But it’s just one of many strange and secretive experiments that happened within these walls. Experiments on sheep, mosquitoes, and even civilians.

About 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City is the US government’s top-secret bioweapons lab. It’s called the Dugway Proving Ground. The 77-year-old facility covers about 800,000 acres. That’s just a little larger than the entire state of Rhode Island. And it tests some of the deadliest chemical, biological, radiological, and explosive hazards on Earth.

Less famous than Area 51, Dugway dates all the way back to 1942. Right in the middle of World War II.

Clip: The decisive battle of war has begun.

Narrator: The government needed a large area to test powerful weapons, eventually settling on this stretch of land in the Utah desert. Back then, the site was used to test everything from chemical sprays and flamethrowers to various antidotes and protective equipment, and even fire-bombing.

After World War II, Dugway mostly shut down. Until the Korean War began in 1950. That’s when the proving ground turned into what it is today: a permanent military base. In Dugway’s first few decades, the base worked mostly on offensive weaponry: biological and chemical munitions designed to directly attack enemies.

Clip: Sampling devices, positioned throughout the test area, yield valuable information to chemical core researchers.

Narrator: The 1950s, for example, saw the launch of Operation Big Itch, an experiment that was testing weaponized fleas. The fleas weren’t infected with any type of disease or agent, but experimenters were working with thousands of them. And the fleas were dropped in cluster bombs, to gauge if they would survive the fall from an airplane. And this was only part one. Dugway launched a second experiment, called Project Bellwether, in the 1960s. Only this time, mosquitoes were injected with inert diseases, inert bacteria, and inert viruses. But get this: Those mosquitoes were released upon several groups of human volunteers, who were bitten again and again during the trials.

And there are records dating back to the late 1950s, which describe experiments that used infected mosquitoes. And those are just two experiments known to the public. Exactly what goes on at Dugway is, well, pretty unclear. And that’s not by accident.

The area is intensely guarded. Everything that comes in and out is carefully monitored, guards are on constant patrol and actively armed, and the perimeter is lined with tall, barbed-wire fencing. There are even signs that authorize “deadly force” when necessary.

Since the 1940s, officials say operations have shifted from offensive to defensive tactics. Case in point, most of the current known work prepares agents to defend against potential biological and chemical attacks. For example, a multitude of training programs are held on-site for the armed forces.

Here’s one in which Army Reserve soldiers are tasked with checking the radiation levels of artillery rounds. And here’s another where soldiers were tasked with identifying substances in a simulated chemical lab.

Dugway’s main operations include the “BRAUCH” training facility, constructed from various shipping containers. It simulates underground environments for military training. There are also various buildings and rooms that serve specific purposes. Like the decontamination testing chamber, the wind-tunnel testing room, and the material test facility.

But perhaps the most interesting room of all is this: the Smartman Laboratory facility, which houses the Smartman dummy, a model that’s used to simulate human contact with chemical agents, including the infamous VX nerve agent. Specifically, the Smartman helps the lab develop more effective individual protection respiratory equipment,- essentially, gas masks and the like.

A variety of chemists, chemical analysts, and technicians work on-site. And the use of airtight chambers and gas masks is not only common, but mandatory. Despite all of this dangerous experimentation, the work done at Dugway hasn’t always been properly contained.

Remember that sheep incident? That marked the start of a worrisome track record. It happened when overhead planes spewed out the nerve agent into the wind, accidentally sending it into nearby farmland in Skull Valley. Within the next couple of days, farmers found thousands of sheep dead in their fields. The Army compensated the farmers and lent them bulldozers to bury the sheep. But the accident sparked a whole debate on the use of chemical weapons in warfare.

Adding on to these questionable practices, a 1994 Senate hearing on veterans’ health focused specifically on Dugway veterans and civilians. A report found that people at Dugway were exposed to biological and chemical simulants believed to be safe at the time, but that the Army had later stopped using many of them because “they realized they were not as safe as previously believed.”

One veteran, who was accidentally sprayed in the face with the chemical DMMP in 1984, found himself wheezing and coughing the next day – symptoms that ended up lasting several weeks. Despite this, he was given only cough medicine and antibiotics by the Dugway Army Hospital. The Dugway Safety Office assured him that the chemical was safe. But by 1988, officials at Dugway had reevaluated the simulant’s danger and were concerned it could cause cancer and kidney damage.

In 2011, the facility slipped up again: It went on lockdown after workers lost a vial containing the VX nerve agent. Nobody was permitted to enter or exit the facility, not even the employees.

And in 2016, the CDC and the Department of Defense launched a major investigation when a review team found that Dugway had been operating dangerously for several years without the government’s knowledge. USA Today reported “egregious failures” by the facility’s leadership and staff. The reports singled out the head colonel in command at Dugway, Brig. Gen. William King.

The Army’s accountability investigation recognized King as unqualified, lacking the education and training to effectively oversee biosafety procedures crucial to Dugway’s operation. The report admonished him, saying he “repeatedly deflected blame” and “minimized the severity of incidents.” It even says King “fails to recognize” how serious the incidents truly were. And how serious were the incidents, exactly? Well, under King’s command, the facility mistakenly shipped live anthrax to other labs. And not just once, but multiple times. For over a decade.

That same report revealed that workers had been regularly and deliberately manipulating data in important records. Records meant to verify that pathogens being transported elsewhere were killed and safe for researchers to handle without protective gear. Still, the facility’s shady past, secretive operations, and intense surveillance have captured the attention, and skepticism, of some closer observers, including several conspiracy-theorist groups.

There are suggestions that the facility is the “new Area 51.” And the local community has raised their own questions about the facility’s operations. Dugway was even featured in an episode of The History Channel’s “UFO Hunters,” in which local residents and UFO watchers were interviewed and footage from the area was examined. It’s hard not to wonder, when you live in close proximity to such a restricted landscape.

Despite these theories, Dugway has expressed a desire to be “more transparent.” And representatives have said the facility wants to be “more a part of the local community” by better informing citizens about what exactly goes on there. So far, they’ve delivered some on that. The facility has its own events page, which lists several events open to the general public and the local Utah community. This year, they’re hosting a trail race on the facility grounds.

Certainly, today’s Dugway is a far cry from the 1940s Dugway, which was entirely closed off to the public. But despite the shift in the level of secrecy, much of Dugway’s testing remains classified, preserving the skepticism and mysteriousness surrounding the facility.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in October 2019.

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Why I’m throwing away every plastic thing in my kitchen ASAP

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: There’s been a lot of buzz about dubious chemicals in the environment that might contribute to some pretty frightening stuff like obesity, breast cancer, thyroid issues. And they seem to lurk everywhere: in pesticides, cosmetics, and especially plastic packaging. In light of this, it’s understandable to start panicking. But before you do, let’s hear what molecular biologist Bruce Blumberg has to say on the subject. He’s been studying the link between synthetic chemicals and obesity for around 15 years. So he might be able to give us a better idea of what’s really going on and what to do about it.

Bad news is, Blumberg confirmed that, yep, we’re surrounded by these chemicals. One of the most well known is BPA, or Bisphenol A, which shows up in water bottles, cans, milk cartons, and more.

Bruce Blumberg: You get them from thermal paper receipts. Like I have, I have these receipts from a recent trip. All of these things are coated with Bisphenol A. It goes right into your skin.

Narrator: BPA has been making headlines for years about whether or not it’s harming us. And while FDA-funded and independent studies have conflicting conclusions, the bigger heart of the issue is this: BPA is hard to get away from because it’s a key building block in the tough, clear, flexible plastic called polycarbonate. And that proximity to food is what concerns scientists like Blumberg.

Bruce Blumberg: You don’t want to store food in plastics because some fraction of those plastics will leach into your food.

Narrator: The BPA molecules that make up plastic are bound together by what’s called an ester bond, which is extremely sensitive to heat. So when you heat up your food in plastic, that heat breaks some of the bonds, releasing the chemicals into your food. A survey by the CDC of 2,517 people estimated that over 90% of Americans have detectable levels of BPA in their urine. And BPA isn’t alone. Phthalates, which make plastic flexible, can also leach into food when heated.

And reviews of hundreds of studies have linked BPA and phthalates to heart disease, obesity, and Type 2 diabetes. Not to mention a 2015 review linked phthalates with impaired neurological development in children, which in 2018 prompted the American Academy of Pediatrics to announce that families should avoid plastic food containers entirely. And other studies on animals, like mice and monkeys, have shown that these chemicals can lead to problems in the lungs, brains, and reproductive organs.

This is about the time someone like me would probably panic. But there are ways you can avoid these chemicals. Blumberg suggests it’s best to just stick to heating your food in anything but plastic. Now, quick aside, BPA-free plastic containers aren’t the answer because research suggests that BPS and BPF, the most common replacements for BPA, might have similar effects on your body. Instead, opt for replacements like ceramic or glass containers.

Bruce Blumberg: You have to do the best you can, and it makes sense to me to do the things that give you the most return for the least effort.

Narrator: And here’s the best part. Once you reduce exposure, those chemicals slowly leave your body. As Blumberg says, they’re stored in fat cells, which eventually die and ultimately leave your system.

Bruce Blumberg: Don’t stress about it, right? Do your best and make conscious choices to improve things.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in March 2019.

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Researchers found 42 ‘mystery chemicals’ in the blood of pregnant women – and their newborn babies

Pregnant vaccine
A pregnant woman receives a vaccine.

  • San Francisco researchers identified 42 “mystery chemicals” in the blood of pregnant women.
  • The chemicals weren’t linked to any known compounds and hadn’t been reported in people before.
  • Research showed that mothers passed the chemicals to their newborn babies.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When researchers collected blood samples from 30 pregnant women in San Francisco, they expected to find evidence of common environmental chemicals.

Chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) are found in the bloodstreams of 99% of Americans. Other toxic substances, like flame retardants and pesticides, often show up in human blood samples as well.

But to their surprise, the researchers discovered 55 chemicals never before reported in people.

A few of those chemicals contained recognizable compounds: Two belonged to the PFAS family, one was a pesticide, and 10 more were plasticizers – substances that make plastic durable and flexible.

The remaining 42 substances were labeled “mystery chemicals,” since the researchers couldn’t find a way to categorize them. The chemicals were identified in all 30 pregnant woman – as well as their babies after they were born, according to the researchers’ new study.

“We’re finding them, but we don’t know where they’re coming from and we don’t have any information about their potential toxicity,” Tracey Woodruff, the study’s senior author, told Insider.

The researchers were particularly concerned by evidence that the chemicals could pass from one generation to next.

“The majority of the chemicals we see are able to cross the placenta, suggesting that the placenta is not efficient at preventing these exposures and it’s not efficient at removing these chemicals from the fetus,” Dimitri Panagopoulos Abrahamsson, the study’s co-author, said.

He added: “Because they appeared to be both in the moms and in the babies, these chemicals would be expected to remain in the population for a very long time.”

Some mystery chemicals may be linked to consumer goods

makeup products
A worker cleans the makeup section inside Hema, a Dutch retail chain, in Katwijk, Netherlands on December 16, 2020.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains a database of nearly 900,000 chemicals and their uses, but chemical manufacturers aren’t legally required to disclose every compound they create. That makes it difficult to hunt down substances that could potentially pose a risk to human health.

Even when the EPA prohibits the use of a certain chemical, manufacturers have been known to develop spin-off chemicals that aren’t subject to the same regulations. For instance, companies must seek EPA approval to manufacture or import products that use PFAS with eight carbon atoms, but they’re free to manufacture or import PFAS with six carbon atoms. (Research suggests that both versions might be linked to cancer.)

The San Francisco researchers found four types of PFAS that weren’t previously identified in human blood. In general, such chemicals are found in food packaging, clothing, carpets, and cookware.

The researchers think several of the “mystery chemicals” they found may hail from consumer goods as well, since items like furniture, electronics, and cosmetics are known to contain chemicals.

“There are some chemicals that appeared to be at higher levels in people with a higher socioeconomic background,” Abrahamsson said. “Our best educated guess about this is that when you can afford more products, when you have a higher buying power, you introduce a lot more products to your home.”

He added that some of the mystery chemicals his team identified may be impurities – chemicals either purposely or accidentally added to common substances used by manufacturers.

“In these cases, it’s even trickier to know where these chemicals are being used because they’re not the main chemical used in the product,” Abrahamsson said.

Potential threats to fetal development

FILE - In this Aug. 7, 2018 file photo, a doctor performs an ultrasound scan on a pregnant woman at a hospital in Chicago.  A new study released Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, suggests when a pregnant woman breathes in air pollution, it can travel beyond her lungs to the placenta that guards her fetus. During pregnancy, particle pollution is linked to premature births and low birth weight, but scientists don’t understand why. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford, File)
A doctor performs an ultrasound scan on a pregnant woman at a hospital in Chicago.

In general, chemicals pose a greater health risk in higher doses, or when people are exposed more regularly. But Woodruff said it will take a while before scientists know what levels of these mystery chemicals, if any, are potentially hazardous to humans.

“Given that they’re mystery chemicals, they’re probably not even on EPA’s radar in terms of identifying their potential health risk or setting any type of levels that would be of more or less concern,” she said.

Already, pregnant women in the US are widely exposed to environmental chemicals like pesticides or flame retardants, which may threaten the development of a fetus. In some cases, this exposure can lead to birth defects, childhood cancer, or health problems in adulthood such as reproductive issues, obesity, and diabetes.

For that reason, Woodruff said, it’s important for scientists to keep studying unidentified substances in people’s blood. But these studies are bound to hit a wall, she added, if companies don’t report all the substances they’re using.

“We are only covering the tip of the iceberg on chemicals that we need to be focused on,” Woodruff said. “There are many of them, and we anticipate that there’s reason to be concerned.”

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