Deadly Substance Found in Crayons and Other Kids’ Toys

·Senior Editor
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EWG Action Fund’s analysis found trace amounts of asbestos in crime-lab kits and crayons imported from China. (Photo: EWG Action Fund)

Deadly asbestos fibers have been found in several brands of children’s crayons and detective kits through a scientific analysis released Wednesday. The study of the kids’ products, by the EWG Action Fund, part of the national nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG), was a follow-up to previous ones done in both 2000 and 2007, in an effort to discover whether manufacturers had stopped using asbestos. Instead, a lab report found trace elements of the toxin in four types of crayons.

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“This is a chemical known to kill people,” study co-author Sonya Lunder tells Yahoo Parenting. “So it’s not good news that every seven years we have to have an asbestos scare like this.”

The product test, conducted at Scientific Analytical Institute in Greensboro, N.C., found trace amounts of asbestos in 4 out of 28 brands of crayons — Amscan Crayons, Disney Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crayons, and Saban’s Power Rangers Super Megaforce, all of which are made in China. It also detected trace amounts of asbestos in the fingerprint dusting powder of two toy crime-lab kits — EduScience Deluxe Forensics Lab Kit and Inside Intelligence Secret Spy Kit, both made in China.

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The asbestos found in the tested products was most likely a contaminant of talc, which is sometimes still used as a binding agent in the crayons and in powder in the crime scene fingerprint kits; asbestos is often found in mines alongside talc deposits. “But Crayola pledged back in 2000 to stop using it, and has, so clearly it’s possible to make crayons without it,” notes Lunder. It’s also unclear why fingerprint dusting powder would still rely on the toxic substance, as some brands use replacements like cornstarch — and the asbestos, in the powder form, is particularly dangerous, because it can become airborne and breathed in by children.

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Photo: EWG Action Fund

“It’s a fully replaceable item in kids’ toys, and there’s no reason to be exposing them,” Lunder says, with the report noting that, even though the amounts of fibers and particles found were very low, “The results are significant because even trace exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and other fatal lung disease.” The symptoms of such illnesses are not evident for decades after exposure, the study explains, and if children are exposed when young, there is more time for asbestos-related illness to develop later in life. (Such diseases include mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs or intestines, as well as asbestos-related lung cancer.)

“Asbestos” is actually a legal and industrial classification for six types of durable, insoluble silica fibers, and EWG Action Fund’s testing found three types, probably all from talc: tremolite, chrysotile, and anthophyllite (the rarest of the three, found in one brand of crayons and one of the crime-scene kits).

Yahoo Parenting was not able to reach all of the toy manufacturers for comment, but Amscan, through a statement, told Sfgate.com that company officials take “these matters very seriously and are investigating further.” Officials from Toys ’R’ Us, which imported some of the detective kits, said they were reviewing the report “to ensure full compliance to our strict safety standards.” And an official from Dollar Tree, which owns Greenbrier International (an importer of some of the crayons), said, “We have a very robust and stringent test program” to ensure product safety.

Federal health authorities have known since 2000 that crayons can be contaminated with asbestos. That year, the study explains, the Seattle Post Intelligencer commissioned tests detecting asbestos in three popular brands of crayons. “The Consumer Product Safety Commission then conducted its own tests on crayons, concluding that the risk of exposure was ‘extremely low’ but that ‘as a precaution, crayons should not contain these [asbestos] fibers,’” it continues. “The commission said it would ‘monitor children’s crayons to ensure they do not present a hazard,’ but it has not banned or regulated asbestos in crayons, toys or other children’s products. Seven years later asbestos was found in the fingerprint powder of a similar crime scene kit.”

Dr. Philip Landrigan, professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, as well as a former senior adviser to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on children’s environmental health and an asbestos expert, told EWG Action Fund, “Asbestos in toys poses an unacceptable risk to children, today as it did in 2000 and 2007, the last time tests found the deadly substance in these children’s products. Clearly some toy manufacturers haven’t done enough to protect children and others from asbestos in consumer products. Therefore, it’s high time the federal government bans asbestos in consumer products.”

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, according to the EWG Action Fund, has noted, “There is no ‘safe’ level of asbestos exposure for any type of asbestos fiber.” An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 U.S. adults die each year from asbestos-related disease, most of whom are exposed while on the job; and children may be at higher risk of such illness than adults.

Despite the results of the 2000 and 2007 tests, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has not implemented a ban or regulations regarding crayons and other toys containing asbestos-contaminated talc. But, CPSC spokesperson Scott Wolfson tells Yahoo Parenting, that’s because such requirements would have to come from Congress. “We have a lot of respect for EWG and take the report very seriously,” he says. “Our staff is going to follow up on the report and look into the products that were identified.” That said, “We can’t change the rules unilaterally. … Congress would need to change the rules,” as it did in 2008 regarding the use of lead in children’s products, Wolfson notes.

Federal representatives, including Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), have worked for years to pass an asbestos ban, but unsuccessfully. A bill known as the READ (Reducing Exposure to Asbestos Database) Act is now under consideration in Congress and would ensure transparency for consumers. “Children’s playtime should be filled with fun, not asbestos,” said READ’s sponsors, Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), in a statement released Wednesday.

Through its report, the EWG Action Fund recommends that the Food and Drug Administration develop sound testing methods for detecting asbestos in all products, and that the CPSC ban talc in children’s products. “Our goal is not to scare parents,” says Lunder. “But our message is that asbestos will continue to be a problem until there are clear rules against it.”

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