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School Supply Study Raises Mesothelioma Concerns

A group that tests common school supplies for toxins is warning parents to stay away from Playskool brand crayons sold at Dollar Tree stores because they could contain trace amounts of asbestos.

Even small amounts of asbestos have been linked to malignant mesothelioma, a rare but deadly cancer that can crop up decades after exposure.

The US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), a non-governmental watchdog agency, says multiple tests of the green Playskool crayons found asbestos concentrations from .10% to .13%.

It is believed the asbestos may have come from the talc used in crayon manufacturing. The two types of mineral deposits typically lie close to each other and talc mines are often contaminated with asbestos.

Could Crayons Really Cause Mesothelioma?

Just how dangerous are asbestos-contaminated crayons?

As late as the 1970s, asbestos was a common component in thousands of building and insulation products and can still be found in most homes built before 1981.

Unless fibers of the mineral dust are inhaled or swallowed, the health threat to homeowners is low. The risk of mesothelioma rises quickly, however, when homeowners decide to launch a renovation project that disturbs deteriorating asbestos.

The danger with crayons is that children routinely put them in their mouths. If a child swallows even a few fibers of asbestos, it could trigger a cascade of physiological changes that could lead to a mesothelioma diagnosis in adulthood.

“It’s insane for us to be finding asbestos in kids’ products, whether it’s technically legal or not, and parents shouldn’t have to worry about this in 2018,” Dev Gowda, an author of the PIRG report, told the New York Times.

The PIRG has asked Dollar Tree to remove the contaminated crayons from the shelves and warn customers of the risk of mesothelioma and lung cancer.

Asbestos in Consumer Products

In an effort to reduce the risk for malignant mesothelioma, the  EPA and OSHA regulate the use of asbestos in the US, one of the few developed countries that has not banned the known carcinogen.

Unfortunately, some products still slip through the cracks and a number of asbestos-contaminated personal care products have made headlines recently amid mesothelioma fears:

  • Two dusting powder manufacturers have been sued (and many suits are still pending) by long-time users who claimed the products caused their peritoneal mesothelioma.
  • Last year, Claire’s was driven to pull several girls glitter makeup kits off the shelves after tests confirmed that they contained trace amounts of tremolite asbestos.
  • Earlier this year, the girls clothing store Justice announced a recall of eight different Just Shine makeup products because of asbestos concerns.

The risk of mesothelioma from consumer products is not expected to improve any time soon. The EPA introduced a proposal this summer to overturn a ban on new uses of asbestos.


Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide, US PIRG, August 7, 2018

Chokshi, Nirah, “Asbestos in a Crayon, Benzene in a Marker: A School Supply Study’s Toxic Results”, August 8, 2018, The New York Times

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