Several brands of crayons and toy detective kits have tested positive for asbestos, a known carcinogen, according to a report released this week by an environmental group that’s advocating for the government to crack down on the substance.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund partnered with two independent laboratories to test for asbestos in crayons and children’s crime scene fingerprint kits purchased at national retailers. Four brands of crayons and two crime scene kits came back positive with trace elements of the substance — even though toy manufacturers have previously promised to make sure their products are free from the potentially harmful material.
Products that tested positive for asbestos were all manufactured in China and imported to the United States. The toys essentially contain microscopic asbestos fibers that children may end up inhaling as they use them.
The risk of asbestos exposure from the products tested — which include crayons marketed with the popular characters Mickey Mouse, the Power Rangers, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — is relatively low. But environmental researchers and health experts argue that children shouldn’t be around asbestos all, particularly since the government has acknowledged there’s no “safe” level of exposure.
“Asbestos in toys poses an unacceptable risk to children,” Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrics professor at Mt. Sinai Hospital, explains in the EWG Action Fund’s report. Landrigan used to be a senior adviser to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on children’s environmental health.
Most people don’t become sick from low levels of asbestos, but prolonged exposure can lead to serious issues over time, according to the National Cancer Institute. Inhaling asbestos fibers can cause scar tissue in the lungs and may eventually increase the risk of breathing issues and lung cancer. When children are exposed from a young age, there’s more time for these effects to build and potentially influence their health decades down the line.
“Our goal is not to scare parents,” Sondra Lunder, one of the co-authors of the report, explained in an interview with Yahoo. “But our message is that asbestos will continue to be a problem until there are clear rules against it.”
Forty-four countries around the world have banned asbestos, but that list doesn’t include the United States. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) currently has no explicit ban on asbestos in crayons, and the nearly four-decade-old Toxic Substance Control Act relies on a high burden of evidence for regulation that has so far prevented the federal government from outlawing asbestos altogether.
A spokesperson for the CPSC told Scientific American that the agency is taking the new report “very seriously,” but “a lot of science will need to go into staff’s work to pass judgement as to whether regulatory action should taken.”
According to the EWG Action Fund’s report, federal regulators have been aware of the presence of asbestos in children’s toys since at least 2000.
Several U.S. lawmakers are pointing to the report’s findings to push for changing the current policies in this area. Sens. Edward Markey (D-MA) and Dick Durbin (D-IL), who have introduced legislation to make information about asbestos more transparent to U.S. consumers, said in a statement this week that the CPSC should issue an updated rule on the substance.
“Children’s playtime should be filled with fun, not asbestos,” the two senators said. “We need greater access to information about where asbestos is present in products children and families use every day.”