We often hear about historic or legacy uses of asbestos, since the mineral was used so heavily in the past. Asbestos made its way into countless construction products, vehicle parts, fire protective clothing and materials, and even consumer goods. Even though asbestos is used quite sparingly in the United States today, and largely only actively used by the chlorine industry, these past uses still haunt Americans and put countless people at risk of exposure.
But even without the mineral being a go-to anymore (though it can still be found in small amounts up to 1% in certain products with historical uses), the known toxin has still found its way into consumer goods in recent years. Even with strict regulations in place around the use and disposal of asbestos, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that without a full ban and removal of its past uses, Americans will always be in danger of exposure and the resulting serious diseases.
Asbestos in Toys
In the summer of 2015, reports emerged about asbestos being found in crayons and crime scene fingerprint kits. The Scientific Analytical Institute in North Carolina tested 28 boxes of crayons and 21 of the fingerprinting kits for contamination. These toys had been imported from China, a country that remains one of the biggest users of asbestos today. China is estimated to be the second-largest importer and producer of asbestos in the world, after Russia. In the most recent report, the country accounted for the production of 400,000 tons of asbestos in 2014 and continues growing rapidly.
Though the investigation only included a small sample size, the Scientific Analytical Institute discovered that four crayon boxes, marketed with popular Disney or Power Ranger characters, and two crime scene kits, such as the EduScience Deluxe Forensics Lab Kit, had trace amounts of asbestos. Although it may not seem like a particularly alarming amount of contamination, any amount of asbestos exposure is considered unsafe. Also considering the small sample size, it’s evident to researchers that the contamination was much wider spread than it may initially appear.
This investigation wasn’t the first to find asbestos in crayons and toys similar to the crime scene kits. In 2000, several agencies commissioned tests on various brands of crayons, including the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The agency determined that the health risk was very low, but cautioned that companies should be more diligent in ensuring their crayons and products did not contain asbestos. In 2007, a long research study conducting analysis of many consumer products by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization found high amounts of asbestos in a crime scene kit, the CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Kit, among many other consumer products. Still, regulations and analysis around these products did not change.
Experts are torn on the “low risk” assessment of crayons, as children are known for sometimes eating the crayons and wear down hundreds each year, which could lead to exposure through ingestion. The fingerprint kits, however, pack a bigger risk. As children swirl their brush through the powder or tap off excess powder, they can inhale the dust and face potential exposure. The severity of their risk may not be apparent for decades, as asbestos-related diseases have a long latency period and nonspecific symptoms when they first present.
Asbestos in Cosmetics and Personal Hygiene Products
Other products have also come under fire for potential and evident asbestos contamination. Just this summer, popular children’s and tween brand Justice was found to have asbestos in their Just Shine Shimmer Powder. The Scientific Analytical Institute discovered asbestos, as well as heavy metals, present in the powder. This is particularly alarming since this is a makeup powder for children meant for use on the face.
Exposure could happen very easily as they move a brush through the product or tap it onto their cheeks. Like with any instance of asbestos exposure, these children and teens may not even see the effects of any potential exposure until they’re adults.
The source of the contamination in the makeup was talcum powder, which has been in the news frequently lately for its tie to both ovarian cancer and mesothelioma. Much of the talc supply is contaminated with asbestos, and many consumers have faced these serious diagnoses years after using talcum powder. As a result, many of these companies, particularly Johnson & Johnson, have faced many lawsuits over their baby powder or talcum powder products.
Other Consumer Goods Contaminated with Asbestos
Though many other consumer goods that were known to contain asbestos in the past are generally no longer actively on the market, they are still important to be aware of in the case of past exposure or any products still in the home. Because asbestos became an important material for any product near heat or that would require heat, so many consumer goods were created with the toxin. Though many of these products wouldn’t be considered at high risk, no amount of exposure to asbestos is safe and consumers need to be aware of what past uses potentially put them at risk.
Items from crockpots, iron rests and ironing board covers to popcorn poppers, hair dryers and even fertilizers often contained some asbestos. Though for the most part, the asbestos in these products would be largely contained and difficult to damage to release fibers, hair dryers, in particular, could be especially dangerous. A 2015 study even investigated how hair dryers could have led to mesothelioma, specifically analyzing the case of a woman diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma after working as a hairdresser for over 20 years. Her daily use of various brands of blowdryers known to contain asbestos, including Conair, General Electric, and Gillette from 1976 to 1982 led to her mesothelioma diagnosis in 2004.
In 1979, the CPSC issued a voluntary removal of asbestos from hair dryers, though even without the toxin in newly manufactured ones, it’s likely the dangerous products were still used for some time. Asbestos is still not banned, and while not actively used in consumer goods, it can still be found in various products today.
Until there is a ban on asbestos, it’s important for consumers to be proactive in examining the ingredients of products they buy and even keep track of where it’s made. Though asbestos wouldn’t be listed on these products, be on the lookout for “talc” as well as other potential toxins that have been found in makeup and similar products, like parabens. Though it may seem like a hassle, take the time to research some toys and products before you buy as well. It could save you and your loved ones a deadly diagnosis down the road.