JPML to Consider MDL Consolidation for Lawsuits Over Benzene in Acne Products

At least 29 lawsuits have been filed over the presence of benzene in acne products, which are currently spread throughout 10 different federal court districts nationwide.

A panel of federal judges will hear oral arguments next month to determine whether all lawsuits over benzene in acne products should be centralized before one U.S. District Judge as part of a multidistrict litigation (MDL), since each of the complaints raise similar allegations that consumers were not adequately warned about the presence of the toxic, cancer-causing chemicals in ProActiv, Clinque, Cereve and other widely used acne treatments.

The litigation emerged after the independent testing laboratory Valisure released a report in March 2024, warning that benzene forms in acne products made with benzoyl peroxide, often resulting in levels of the chemical that are hundreds of times higher than federally allowed.

Benzene is known to increase the risk of several forms of cancer and other life-threatening health conditions, such as acute myeloid leukemia (AML), Chronic Myelogenous Leukemia (CML), Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL), Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL), Hairy Cell Leukemia (HCL), Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Multiple Myeloma, Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDL), Myelofibrosis, Myeloid Metaplasia, Aplastic Anemia and Thrombocytopenic Purpura.

Long-term side effects of benzene exposure have also been proven to cause anemia, which is a condition that develops when your blood lacks enough healthy red blood cells or hemoglobin. Research published in 2021 found benzene exposure is associated with an increased risk of developing non-Hodgkin lymphoma, large B-cell lymphoma, follicular lymphoma and hairy cell leukemia cancers.

High benzene levels have been found in many aerosol spray products sold in recent years, leading to a number of sunscreen, deodorant, and antiperspirant recalls.

Following the discovery of benzene in acne products, Valisure filed a citizen’s petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), urging it to issue a recall and stop sales for all products containing the chemical benzoyl peroxide, and a number of manufacturers now face lawsuits over their acne treatment products.

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With a growing number of complaints being filed throughout the federal court system, a number of plaintiffs filed a motion to transfer all benzoyl peroxide acne lawsuits before one judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, arguing that consolidation will benefit all parties, given that each complaint raises similar allegations that consumers were not adequately warned about benzene exposure risks when using the products.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) issued a Notice of Hearing Session (PDF) on June 14, announcing that it will hear arguments for and against consolidation of acne product benzene exposure lawsuits at the Edward T. Gignoux Federal Courthouse in Portland, Maine, on July 25.

According to the notice, there are at least 29 complaints filed in 10 different federal district courts nationwide.

In complex pharmaceutical litigation, where large numbers of claims are brought by users of the same product, each experiencing the same or similar injuries, it is common for the U.S. JPML to centralize the litigation to reduce duplicative discovery into common issues that will arise in all claims, avoid conflicting pretrial rulings and to serve the convenience of certain witnesses and parties who will be required to testify in each of the lawsuits.

If an MDL is established, the lawsuits will be transferred to wherever the U.S. JPML centralizes the pretrial proceedings. However, if the parties fail to negotiate acne benzene lawsuit settlements during the MDL proceedings, each individual claim may later be remanded back to the U.S. District Court where it was originally filed for trial.

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