Asbestos Exposure, Featured, Manufacturers & Products

Now & Then: Shocking Consumer Products that Contain Asbestos

Asbestos was once considered the “miracle mineral.” Asbestos was useful for many purposes, especially in the military. It was also appealing because it was cheap, yet durable. While the carcinogens were primarily used for such industrial purposes, it also found its way into thousands of consumer products. It is still used in products today, but government agencies have restricted the amount of asbestos permitted in consumer products to 1%.

Even though it has been well-established that exposure to asbestos fibers can lead to the development of mesothelioma, it is still legal. To date, 67 countries have banned the use of asbestos. Recently, the Johnson & Johnson talcum powder litigation has shed light on the possible presence of asbestos in baby powder. It is also placed other companies under a magnifying glass — especially the asbestos-containing cosmetics mass-produced by other companies. 

According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), “People can also be exposed at home, both to old sources of asbestos as a result of activities such as home renovation or to new sources of asbestos as a result of certain types of recreational activities and hobbies such as auto repairs and, in areas of naturally occurring asbestos in local soils, gardening.”

The relationship between asbestos and mesothelioma is a strong one. Mesothelioma is caused by the exposure and inhalation of asbestos fibers. Mesothelioma is the cancerous development of tumors. The tumors can form in the lungs (pleural mesothelioma), heart (pericardial mesothelioma), abdomen (peritoneal mesothelioma).

Consumer Products Before Asbestos Regulations  

Prior to the restrictions put into place by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), American manufacturers used an unlimited amount of asbestos and consumer products. Even though there are restrictions in place, the use of or repair of older home appliances could result in exposure to asbestos. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reported that over 5,000 consumer products contained the toxic substance. Some of these products are still handled and used today.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a press release in 1980 announced that it, “voted to issue general orders requiring approximately 1,200 U.S. corporations to provide information regarding the use of asbestos in consumer products.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported,

“[t]he health hazard may occur when asbestos fibers are released into the air, and people inhale them. Inhaled asbestos fibers may become embedded in lung tissue and, once embedded, they may remain there indefinitely. Asbestos fibers that are released from consumer products can remain in the household air for long periods of time and may subject household members to a continuous risk of fiber inhalation.”

This statement was released to the public in 1983. That is alarming because a significant amount of common household appliances was lined with asbestos insulation and were lined with fireproofing material. Asbestos was the primary component in insulation.  

Asbestos in the Kitchen

Most kitchen appliances contained some element of asbestos. The risk of asbestos exposure was not too high unless the product was taken apart. They also presented a more significant exposure risk if they were damaged. Some of the most common asbestos-containing kitchen products included: 

  • Coffee pots
  • Crockpots 
  • Ovens
  • Wood-burning stoves
  • Toasters
  • Stove Mats
  • Refrigerators 
  • Portable Dishwashers

These appliances that were manufactured before the regulations went into effect are still found in many households today. The risk of asbestos exposure here was high to homemakers and appliance repair personnel. Individuals who utilized these products decades ago may just start presenting symptoms of an asbestos-related condition. 

You should look around the kitchen and ensure your appliances do not contain unlimited amounts of asbestos. It is also imperative to understand that just because you have such appliances that you will contract mesothelioma or other similar diseases, but it does increase your overall risk to asbestos exposure.

The highest risk for older kitchen appliances is when they are damaged or disassembled. This causes the release of asbestos fibers that become airborne. The inhalation of the carcinogens can lead to the development of mesothelioma. Modern appliances do not contain asbestos in the United States. 

Reports of Crayons Containing Asbestos

Products made for children have also been found to contain asbestos. Over the last 20 years, trace amounts of asbestos have been found in certain brands of children’s crayons. In 2000, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) conducted an investigation on three major crayon brands: Crayola (Binney and Smith), Prang (Dixon Ticonderoga), and Rose Art. It was believed that the crayons contained asbestos or a similar substance, referred to as “traditional fibers.”

The Office of Information and Public Affairs issued a press release stating, “[t]he risk of exposure to the fibers from using crayons is low. In a simulation of a child vigorously coloring with a crayon for half an hour, no fibers were found in the air. The risk of exposure by eating crayons is also low because the fibers are embedded in wax and pass through a child’s body. However, CPSC concluded that these fibers should not be in children’s crayons in the long term.”

Since the studies found that the exposure risk was low, the U.S. Consumer Safety Commission found no “scientific basis” to issue a recall. The crayon companies agreed to stop using the toxins in future crayon production. The problem came up again in 2015 when the Environmental Working Group (EWG) claimed that crayons contained deadly asbestos fibers. However, the U.S. Consumer Safety Commission came to the same conclusion as they did in 2000, that it did not present a significant risk to children’s health.  

The United States Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) published a report on 27 back-to-school products, including crayons. The report explained, “[w]e tested six types of crayons for asbestos and one tested positive for tremolite: Playskool crayons (36 count) that we purchased at Dollar Tree. We tested the green color crayon. Asbestos is a known carcinogen and can lead to severe health conditions, including lung cancer and mesothelioma.”

The report revealed that crayons distributed by Playskool, available at Dollar Tree, eBay, and Amazon contained asbestos. Asbestos is still authorized to be used in products as long as it does not exceed 1%. Other products that have been found to contain asbestos include clay, chalkboards, or older toys.

Fertilizer Containing Vermiculite and Gardening 

Many potting soils and fertilizers contain a mineral called vermiculite. Asbestos itself is a naturally occurring fiber found in soil. Vermiculite is known to also contain asbestos. Individuals that use these products are encouraged to wear protective masks while gardening to prevent the inhalation of any possible asbestos fibers released in the air. 

There is also an occupational hazard that deals with the agricultural use of fertilizers. This occupational hazard is with farmers. The exposure risk was much higher 50 years ago. However, mesothelioma does not typically show symptoms for over a decade after one’s initial exposure. 

Other Asbestos-Containing Products 

Asbestos is a fire retardant, so products that were “heat-resistant” more than likely contained asbestos. For example, fireproof gloves, ironing board covers, electric blankets benefitted from the heat-resistant properties of asbestos. Hairdryers manufactured and distributed before the 1980s contained asbestos.

Construction workers who remodel homes should be aware of the risk when coming in contact with older appliances. Both consumers and occupational workers should use caution and dispose of the appliances in accordance with current regulations.

Asbestos is still used in brake pads, lining, and clutch plates and is prevalent in the automotive industry. Commercial mechanics are required to follow OSHA safety standards; however, home mechanics are not. Individuals who perform their own mechanical repairs should exercise caution when coming into contact with asbestos-filled brake dust. 

In closing, hundreds of household consumer products still contain controlled amounts of asbestos. A few modern products include certain brands of duct tape or products containing talc (baby powder or cosmetics). However, there are hundreds of pre-regulation consumer products that may contain high levels of asbestos. The risk of exposure is increased when an older appliance containing asbestos is taken apart or damaged. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of mesothelioma, a medical screening is necessary. If you or a family member have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, you are not alone. Contacting an attorney can help you discover any benefits you or your family may be entitled to recover. 

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