Even the most vigilant insurers and reinsurers scanning the risk landscape for potential future liability problems are likely to fall into landmines. What insurance risks of the immediate or distant future are being overlooked now? Here, we highlight risks associated with “sunny day” floods, solar panels, cannabis edibles, hidden toxins, overheating brakes and explosive parties.
- ‘Sunny day’ floods are becoming more common.
High-tide surges, sometimes referred to as “sunny day” or “nuisance” floods, are becoming increasingly common along U.S. coasts as sea levels continue to rise, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Damaging floods that used to happen mainly during storms now happen during regular events such a full-moon tide or with a change in prevailing winds.
High waters are flowing into coastal economies and crucial infrastructure like waste and storm water systems, with those areas seeing twice as many high-tide flooding days as they did 20 years ago. The trend is expected to continue without improved flood defenses, NOAA said.
Flood records were set in Texas, Florida, South Carolina and Georgia. Galveston and Corpus Christi, Texas, along with Bay Waveland, Miss., had a record 20 days with high-tide flooding from May 2020 to April 2021. Twenty years ago, these locations would typically only flood two or three days a year.
On top of this, starting in the mid-2030s, the alignment of rising sea levels with a lunar cycle will cause coastal cities all around the U.S. to begin a decade of dramatic increases in flood numbers, according to a study released in July by NASA researchers at the University of Hawaii.
By 2030, long-range projections call for seven to 15 days of flooding along coastal communities nationally, the report said. By 2050, that rises to 25 to 75 days.
“It’s the accumulated effect over time that will have an impact,” according to Phil Thompson, an assistant professor at the University of Hawaii and the lead author of the study. He noted that “if it floods 10 or 15 times a month, a business can’t keep operating with its parking lot under water. People lose their jobs because they can’t get to work. Seeping cesspools become a public health issue.”
Source: “‘Sunny Day’ Floods Becoming Increasingly Common With Rising Sea Levels: NOAA,” Bloomberg/Carrier Management, July 15, 2021; “U.S. high-tide flooding breaks records | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration” NOAA News Release, July 14,2021; “Study Projects a Surge in Coastal Flooding, Starting in 2030s,” NASA.gov, July 7, 2021
- Is the U.S. heading toward a solar panel waste crisis?
U.S. home installations of solar panels have rebounded after a pandemic slump, and analysts expect the capacity to quadruple in the next 10 years.
While that may be good news for fans of renewable energy, there’s a dark cloud on the horizon, warns a recent report by professors for INSEAD and the University of Calgary published in Harvard Business Review.
Customers are beginning to trade their existing panels for newer, cheaper, more efficient models. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects that “large amounts of annual waste are anticipated by the early 2030s” and could total 78 million tonnes by 2050.
But the report says these predictions are based on customers keeping their panels in place for the entire 30-year life cycle. However, if the cost of trading up is low enough, and the efficiency and compensation rate are high enough, the university researchers expect many customers to make the switch earlier—which could produce 50 times more waste than IRENA anticipates in just four years. That figure translates to around 315,000 metric tonnes of waste for just residential installations.
The HBR article noted that First Solar is the sole U.S. panel manufacturer it knows of with an up-and-running recycling initiative, which only applies to the company’s own products at a global capacity of two million panels per year and an estimated cost of $20-$30 to recycle one panel. Sending that same panel to a landfill would cost a mere $1-$2.
Detaching and removing the panels requires specialized labor, and some governments may classify solar panels as hazardous waste due to the small amounts of heavy metals (cadmium, lead, etc.) they contain.
By 2035, discarded panels would outweigh new units sold by 2.56 times, the researchers said in the HBR article.
Source: “The Dark Side of Solar Power,” Harvard Business Review, June 18, 2021
- Do cannabis edibles look too much like candy?
As more states have legalized recreational marijuana, the edibles market has seen a surge. But the choice by many manufacturers to market their products as candy look-alikes has opened the door for intellectual property lawsuits—and puts young children at greater risk of accidental ingestion.
The Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, owned by candy giant Mars Inc., filed a lawsuit in May against five companies for selling cannabis-infused edibles designed to look like Skittles, Starburst and Life Savers. Though the suit focuses on intellectual property rights, the plaintiffs also argue that the copycat products could lead people to mistakenly ingest drugs—particularly young children.
Similar lawsuits have previously been brought by the Hershey Company (against TinctureBelle for products resembling Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Heath bars, Almond Joy bars and York Peppermint Patties), Mondelez International (against a company selling Stoney Patch Kids) and Ferrara Candy Company (against a store selling Medicated Nerds Rope). These lawsuits have all been settled, with the smaller companies agreeing to halt production and sales of those products.
When it comes to candy, intellectual property protections can apply to name, shape of the candy, packaging, as well as patent protections for the recipes, according to an intellectual property lawyer who spoke to the New York Times.
Poison control centers have observed an increase in accidental ingestion of edibles by children, and public health officials worry this will only get worse unless proper regulation is put in place. For example, there were 122 cases of exposure to THC for children under 5 in Washington State in the first nine months of 2020 compared to 85 for the same time period in 2019. The most common side effects reported included vomiting, lethargy and chest pain.
Source: “Big Candy Is Angry,” New York Times, May 22, 2021
- Carcinogens found in anti-smoking drug.
Pfizer Inc. is pausing distribution of Chantix after finding elevated levels of cancer-causing agents called nitrosamines in the pills. The drug maker also voluntarily recalled 12 lots of the anti-smoking drug.
Pfizer said that while long-term ingestion of N-nitroso-varenicline may be associated with a theoretical potential increased cancer risk in humans, there is no immediate risk to patients taking this medication.
Pfizer noted that nitrosamines are common in water and foods, including cured and grilled meats, dairy products and vegetables.
Chantix was approved by the FDA in 2006 as a prescription medication to help adults aged 18 and over quit smoking and is used for 12-24 weeks.
Source: “Pfizer halts distribution of anti-smoking drug after finding carcinogen,” Reuters, June 30, 2021; FDA.gov, July 19, 2021
- ‘Overheating brakes are causing fires in trucks.
U.S. highway safety regulators have opened an investigation into about a half-million semis with brakes that can catch fire.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says in documents posted on its website July 20 that it has 11 complaints about brakes made by Haldex Commercial Vehicle Systems, including seven fires. No injuries were reported.
The complaints say problems occurred mostly on Kenworth and Peterbilt semis. The agency is investigating brakes from the 2015 through 2020 model years.
NHTSA said an estimated 500,000 trucks may be affected.
The investigation covers certain Haldex Gold Seal brake chambers, which convert compressed air into a mechanical force that stops the trucks. NHTSA says a spring can fracture, puncturing a diaphragm and causing air loss. That can make the brakes drag without warning to the driver and eventually cause fires, which can cause extensive damage to the trucks and in some cases the cargo.
NHTSA says it will determine how often the problem happens and what models it affects. An investigation can lead to a recall.
Source: “US Probes Overheating Brakes That Cause Fires in 500K Semis,” Associated Press/Claims Journal, July 21, 2021
- ‘Forever chemicals’ found in cosmetics.
More than half the cosmetics sold in the United States and Canada contain a toxic industrial compound associated with serious health conditions, including cancer and reduced birth weight, according to a recent study.
Researchers at the University of Notre Dame tested more than 230 commonly used cosmetics and found that 56 percent of foundations and eye products, 48 percent of lip products and 47 percent of mascaras contained fluorine—an indicator of PFAS, so-called “forever chemicals” that are used in nonstick frying pans, rugs and countless other consumer products.
Some of the highest PFAS levels were found in waterproof mascara (82 percent) and long-lasting lipstick (62 percent), according to the study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters. Twenty-nine products with higher fluorine concentrations were tested further and found to contain between four and 13 specific PFAS chemicals. Only one item listed PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, as an ingredient on the label.
Source: “Half of Cosmetics Contain Toxic PFAS Chemicals,” Associated Press/Insurance Journal, June 17, 2021; “Fluorinated Compounds in North American Cosmetics,” Environmental Science and Technology Letters, June 15, 2021; “Use of PFAS in cosmetics ‘widespread,’ new study finds,” Notre Dame News, June 15,2021
- Death toll from gender reveal parties continues to rise.
Despite numerous reports of destruction and even death, many couples still insist on throwing elaborate and risky gender reveal parties—often with unintended consequences.
Carrier Management first warned readers about the possible risks from gender reveal parties back in November 2019, after a 56-year-old woman in Iowa was killed by a homemade explosive that was meant to spray colorful powder into the air but instead exploded like a pipe bomb. Two years prior, an off-duty Border Patrol agent shot a target filled with an explosive powder and blue coloring to signal that he was expecting a son, accidentally starting a 47,000-acre wildfire that caused more than $8 million in damage in southern Arizona. And those are just two examples, cited in a 2019 AP report.
Celebratory cannons and other explosive devices used at gender reveal parties already have killed a number of people in 2021. The latest news: A Southern California couple who used a smoke bomb for their gender reveal on Sept. 5, 2020 is now being charged with 30 crimes—including involuntary manslaughter. The couple’s gimmick allegedly sparked the El Dorado wildfire, which destroyed several homes and burned more than 22,000 acres across two counties. It also caused the death of a firefighter who was battling the blaze.
Source: “A couple whose 2020 gender reveal party allegedly sparked a deadly wildfire in California has been charged in the death of a firefighter,” CNN, July 21, 2021; “Pink or blue? Some gender reveal parties take dangerous turn,” Associated Press, Nov. 1, 2019
- Benzene found in J&J sunscreen products.
CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Walmart Inc. began pulling Johnson & Johnson’s sunscreen products off their shelves in July after J&J said it had detected a cancer-causing chemical in some samples.
J&J voluntarily recalled five Neutrogena and Aveeno brand aerosol sunscreens and advised consumers to stop using the products and discard them after internal testing found low levels of benzene in some sprays.
The recall came two months after online pharmacy Valisure filed a petition with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), saying it had found levels of benzene that were higher than recommended in over a dozen products that provide protection or relief against sunburns, including sprays and lotions.
Benzene is classified as a substance that can potentially cause cancer depending on the level and extent of exposure.
J&J said benzene is not an ingredient in its sunscreen products and it was investigating the cause of the contamination.
J&J’s recalled aerosol sunscreens are Neutrogena Beach Defense, Neutrogena Cool Dry Sport, Neutrogena Invisible Daily defense, Neutrogena Ultra Sheer and Aveeno Protect + Refresh.
The recall is another blow for J&J, one of the world’s largest producers of consumer health products. The company is already facing a string of lawsuits related to its talc products, vaginal mesh implants and opioid painkillers.
Source: “Liability Worries: Pharmacies Yank J&J Sunscreens Off Shelves After Carcinogen Revelation,” Reuters/Carrier Management, July 16, 2021; “Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. Issues Voluntary Recall of Specific NEUTROGENA and AVEENO Aerosol Sunscreen Products Due to the Presence of Benzene,” Company Announcement, July 14, 2021