The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has announced that the organization conducted an investigation which indicated that a variety of crayons and toy crime scene kits contained high levels of asbestos—a known carcinogen.
The report found that samples of four of a total of 28 boxes of the crayons contained asbestos. The samples were tested by the Scientific Analytical Institute of Greensboro, North Carolina. Additionally, the laboratory tested 21 toy crime scene fingerprinting kits, two of which tested positive for asbestos. The powder in the crime scene kits contained approximately one percent of asbestos, which is considered a fairly high level of the carcinogen.
“This is an exposure that could easily be avoided,” says Sonya Lunder, a senior researcher for EWG and one of the co-authors of the study. “The threshold for exposing a kid to a carcinogen chemical when they’re playing with toys should be zero.”
While the study refers to particular products, the research should assist in reminding the public that asbestos may be unexpectedly in products, according to Lunder. “The lesson here is that parents can’t just read labels and choose safer products by looking at the labels themselves,” says Lunder. “There’s not enough information about where asbestos might be found.”
The World Health Organization estimates that annually, over 100,000 deaths worldwide are attributed to asbestos. The chemical is a naturally occurring mineral fiber that has been used in a variety of industrial products, covering materials and other building materials due to their heat resistance efficiency. The National Cancer Institute indicates that the inhalation of asbestos fibers may result in them becoming trapped in your lungs indefinitely. Over time, they may also cause internal damage, inflammation and breathing obstruction. The National Cancer Institute also says that constant asbestos exposure can increase your chances of having cancer in the lungs and in the thin membranes lining of the chest, the lungs and in the thin membranes lining of the chest.
Currently, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the agency that regulates asbestos in several other products for consumers, does not prohibit the carcinogen in crayons. Most manufacturing companies have voluntarily banned products containing asbestos except China, where most of the contaminated products were manufactured, making it even more problematic to trace all stages of the process.
CPSC says an investigation on the results of the EWG report is underway, but the agency must make several inquiries prior to taking further action to ban the chemical from the tested products.
The law in the United States requires that the CPSC not only determines and proves whether each item tested contains asbestos, but also the probability of whether the chemical can actually cause health problems for consumers, says CPSC spokesman Scott Wilson. According to Wilson, the inquiry would require the agency to determine “How much of this substance can come out of the product? What’s the route of exposure? How many hours do they use the product?” Wilson said. Senators Edward Markey Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois asked retailers on July 8 to voluntarily recall “toxic products.” The U.S. senators also said that they would work with the CPSC to take measures to deal with effective product safety practices.
“Children’s playtime should be filled with fun, not asbestos,” Markey and Durbin said in a joint written statement. “We need greater access to information about where asbestos is present in products children and families use every day.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, damage caused by exposure to asbestos usually comes from direct and recurrent contact over time. Nevertheless, the U.S. Department of Labor states that there is no “safe” level for exposure to asbestos fibers.