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Does WD-40 Cause Cancer?

Published on October 29th, 2020 by Andrew Hughes

WD-40 is a very popular aerosol lubricant and penetrating oil that is used by auto and airline mechanics, plumbers, and other tradespeople to loosen rusted bolts, penetrate stuck plumbing joints and lubricate parts.  Unfortunately, the workers using WD-40 day in, day out, were likely exposed to benzene, a cancer-causing toxin that was present in WD-40. Since World War II, benzene has been known to cause cancers such as non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (NHL), acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), and myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). 

Few products are used as commonly across all trades as penetrating oils like WD-40. While most consumers are familiar with the iconic WD-40 spray cans, the product is also sold in 55 gallon drums for use in industrial settings. The workers in these settings who experienced heavy, long term exposures to WD-40 are at an elevated risk for developing a blood or bone marrow cancer like AML or MDS.  

Exposures Routes for WD-40

WD-40 can be inhaled, ingested or absorbed through the skin.  Workers such as mechanics or plumbers using WD-40 in confined spaces suffered inhalation exposures to the benzene-containing product.  Shop workers in ventilated spaces could still be exposed when the product would come in contact with their skin. And if you had cuts or scrapes on your skin, that benzene could enter right into the bloodstream. Any single occurrence would not cause cancer, but these normal tasks done over and over for decades would contribute to the diagnosis. 

What’s In WD-40?

WD-40 is a petroleum-based product that contains oils and hydrocarbons.  If you were to read the list of contents on the can, there may be no mention of benzene at all. However, corporate records of the companies who supplied WD-40 with raw materials show that the levels of benzene varied based on the supplier. Benzene was eventually considered a contaminant and was removed where it was practical. Unfortunately, what was practical for one supplier was not the same for all. When safety considerations clashed with financial ones, not every supplier made the same choices, leaving dangerous levels of benzene in the raw materials that comprised many penetrating oils. And while defendants in these cases will argue that there were only “trace amounts of benzene” in their products, it is important to remember that the American Petroleum Institute admitted in 1948 that there is no safe level of benzene exposures. 

These are complicated cases that require attorneys with experience dealing in these matters. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with a blood or bone cancer such as AML, NHL, MDS or multiple myeloma, call 1-800-BENZENE today and speak directly with an attorney at no cost to you

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