A popular air-drying modeling clay used across Europe in the 1960s and 70s may have raised the mesothelioma risk for thousands of teachers and students.
The case of an Italian elementary school teacher who recently died of malignant mesothelioma, although she had never worked in a school building with crumbling asbestos, brings the point home.
DAS Modeling Paste
An estimated 55 million packs of DAS paste, a Playdough-like modeling clay, were sold as a toy and used in schools in the UK and Europe between 1963 and 1975. (A similar product called Fibro-Clay by Milton Bradley was produced and sold in the US around the same time.)
At a time when asbestos was a popular additive to a wide variety of building products, the manufacturers of DAS and Fibro-Clay added asbestos fibers to their modeling paste to make the finished models stronger.
After asbestos was linked to malignant mesothelioma and lung cancer, DAS was reformulated and Fibro-Clay was recalled. But the new published case study suggests that change may have come too late to prevent the development of mesothelioma in some exposed individuals.
Mesothelioma Risk in the Classroom
Unfortunately, mesothelioma risk in the classroom is not unheard of. Because asbestos was used for decades to construct school buildings, some teachers and students have been exposed, especially as that asbestos began to deteriorate and become an airborne dust.
But the authors of the newly-published Italian case study say the risk posed by asbestos-containing modeling clay has often been overlooked.
They recount the case of a 78-year-old teacher who had been extensively interviewed about her occupational asbestos exposure prior to her death from malignant mesothelioma. Although her case had been classified as “unknown asbestos exposure”, further investigation determined that she had used DAS clay in her classroom nearly every day for a decade.
“This case suggests the need to carry out any possible detailed studies of the circumstances and exposure sources whenever any mesothelioma case is classified as ‘asbestos exposure unknown’,” writes Dr. Pietrogino Barbieri in the Italian journal la Medicina del Lavoro.
Barbieri and colleagues say the case emphasizes that the handling of this kind of toxic clay should be considered a certain – not a possible – asbestos exposure.
They say the case also points to the fact that even low-level occupational asbestos exposure, especially if it continues over a period of time, raises the risk of eventually developing mesothelioma.
Pinpointing the source of suspected asbestos exposure is critical for making a mesothelioma diagnosis and determining if a mesothelioma victim may be eligible for compensation.
Barbieri, PG, et al, “Pleural mesothelioma in a school teacher: asbestos exposure due to DAS paste”, March 24, 2016, la Medicina del Lavora, pp. 141-147
Silvestri, S, et al, “Asbestos in toys: an exemplary case”, Jan 1, 2016, Scandinavian Journal of Work, Environment and Health, pp. 80 – 85