Asbestos found in some crayons, consumer group finds

Parents buying school supplies for grammar schoolers would be wise to avoid Playskool crayons. The brand, sold at Dollar Tree, was found to have trace elements of asbestos.

“The good news is that when we were testing three years ago, all sorts of brands came back with asbestos,” said Kara Cook-Schultz, toxics director at U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which conducts annual tests of toys and school supplies. “Now it’s just this one.”

Indeed, in tests run in 2015, many major brands, including Disney Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Crayons and Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crayons, contained trace amounts of asbestos fibers — a substance that can cause breathing difficulties and cancer if inhaled. Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission acknowledged that it was unclear whether the asbestos trapped in crayon wax posed a danger, it noted that kids sometimes eat crayons and recommended that parents avoid asbestos-containing brands as a precaution. Since then, most brands have revamped their crayon manufacturing process to eliminate even trace elements of asbestos fibers.

However, in tests run this year on green Playskool crayons, U.S. PIRG found tremolite fibers — a type of asbestos. A handful of other products that U.S. PIRG tested also contained dangerous chemicals, according to the organization’s just released back-to-school report.

  • Blue three-ring binders made by Jot and sold at Dollar Tree tested positive for phthalates, a substance linked with asthma, obesity and lower-IQ scores, for instance.
  • Dry erase markers made by Expo and The Board Dudes tested positive for carcinogenic BTEX chemicals, such as benzene, xylene, and toluene.
  • Additionally, two types of children’s water bottles were previously recalled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission for containing lead — Reduce Hydro Pro Furry Friends water bottle, sold at Costco and Amazon, and GSI Outdoors Children’s Water Bottles, sold at L.L. Bean. Despite the recall, a CBS New reporter was able to order the Hydro Pro Furry Friends product from Costco online. A Costco spokesman failed to return a reporter’s phone calls.

Retailers and manufacturers of these products said they were scrambling Monday to evaluate the PIRG data, which some said conflicted with their own laboratory tests.

A spokesman for Dollar Tree said all of its children’s products are independently tested and meet all legal and safety standards.

Julie Duffy, a spokeswoman for Hasbro, which owns the Playskool brand, said the company would investigate the US PIRG claims thoroughly, “including working with Leap Year, the licensee of the product.”

“We are aware of a report of trace amounts of asbestos being detected in a small amount of product testing conducted by a private group and are reviewing our own certified lab testing, which to our knowledge, passes all regulatory requirements and had no detectable asbestos,” added a spokesman for LeapYear.  “We will issue a formal statement upon the completion of our review.  Consumer safety is most important to Leap Year and we take these matters very seriously.”

The bright side: The vast majority of products tested by U. S. PIRG this year were found to be devoid of toxic chemicals. U.S. PIRG also tested glue, lunch boxes, spiral notebooks and rulers, as well as multiple other types of crayons and pens. Indeed, Cook-Schultz said the Art and Creative Materials Institute has also begun testing and labeling products and all of the ACMI-labeled items proved safe.

“I think there’s good news here for parents,” said Cook-Schultz. “You can look for these labels and buy safe products.”

— This story has been corrected to exclude Crayola and Rose Art crayons from those found to have trace amounts of asbestos in 2015. Both brands tested negative for asbestos that year.

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N.H. Will Get EPA Money To Address Asbestos In Schools

Asbestos Free Photo

New Hampshire is set to receive a $140,000 federal grant to help communities address asbestos contamination in schools.

The state’s Democratic congressional delegation announced this week that the money from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be directed to the New Hampshire Asbestos in Schools Program.

The program reviews school asbestos management plans to ensure they comply with the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act, maintain an asbestos accreditation and certification training program, and provide educational outreach to parents, teachers, and school maintenance personnel on the dangers of asbestos exposure.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said that it was critical for the health and safety of the children that the state combat asbestos. The grant, she said, would provide critical information for all stakeholders in the event of asbestos exposure.

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Study Details Significant Increase in Asbestos-Related Deaths

Deaths attributed to asbestos exposure — within the United States and worldwide — have been significantly underestimated, according to the latest study by the International Commission of Occupational Health (ICOH).

Asbestos is killing more people than anyone thought.

Based on the most extensive study to date, occupational asbestos-related diseases killed 39,275 people within the U.S. and 222,321 people throughout the world in 2016.

Both figures were more than double the commonly used estimates that stem from various governmental and nongovernmental health agencies.

“The asbestos burden is worse than people realize. The older estimates, the ones still being used, are so outdated,” Dr. Jukka Takala, president of the ICOH, told “We suspected these new figures would be higher, but the magnitude, the enormity of what we found, was surprising.”

The International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health published results of the study earlier this year, reinforcing the often-forgotten fact that asbestos exposure causes a wide range of serious health problems.

Mesothelioma, a rare and aggressive cancer with no cure, is just the most obvious.

Mesothelioma Is Only the Start

The wide gap between previous estimates and the ICOH numbers stems mostly from better identification of lung cancers caused by asbestos, which Takala still believes are underreported.

Asbestos exposure is the primary cause of mesothelioma, which is most often linked to the toxic mineral.

Asbestos, though, also has been proven to cause lung cancer. Unfortunately, it is tougher for doctors to differentiate between asbestos and other causes in lung cancer cases, leaving many oncologists to simply identify smoking as the culprit.

“The asbestos problem is much bigger than mesothelioma,” Takala said. “Mesothelioma is the most obvious asbestos disease, but it’s not the most common. Asbestos causes six times more cases of lung cancer than it does mesothelioma.”

Asbestos Increases Risk of Lung Cancer

Exposure to asbestos makes smokers more likely to develop lung cancer.

According to the study, U.S. deaths caused by occupational exposure to asbestos in 2016 included:

  • Mesothelioma: 3,161
  • Lung Cancer: 34,270
  • Ovarian Cancer: 787
  • Laryngeal Cancer: 443
  • Asbestosis: 613

“The more we study this, the more we find. The numbers are going up,” Takala said. “We have solid evidence. This is a problem that isn’t going away, either. It’s a problem that needs to be faced, not ignored.”

Worldwide Numbers Are Eye-Opening

The World Health Organization and the International Health Organization use estimates between 105,000 to 110,000 deaths each year caused by asbestos diseases.

The ICOH study puts the figure of annual deaths at 222,321, which Takala believes also is low, primarily because many countries underreport their cancer figures and don’t bother detailing the causes.

“The metrics to appropriately estimate the magnitude of asbestos-related disorders are gradually improving, and the size of the problem is increasing,” the authors wrote. “But most asbestos caused cancers are not reported, recorded and compensated for.”

The ICOH international asbestos deaths include:

  • Mesothelioma: 27,612
  • Lung Cancer: 181,450
  • Ovarian Cancer: 6,022
  • Larynx Cancer: 3,743
  • Asbestosis: 3,495

There are 62 countries that have banned asbestos, according to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat, leaving more than 100 countries that continue using it, and some still extensively.

More than 2 million tons of asbestos is consumed each year throughout the world, according to the ICOH study.

Many of these asbestos-cancer numbers are estimates based upon percent employment in the industrial sector, asbestos consumption and continental region.

As a naturally occurring mineral, asbestos remains coveted as a building material in many developing countries. It is known for its ability to resist heat, strengthen almost anything and its affordability.

“In too many places, they say, ‘What a marvelous material this is,’ producing and selling things without any real understanding of what they have,” Takala said. “The producers first become rich [by selling it], then look at the consequences later. The production in some countries is more important than the negative impact of the material.”

Response Has Been Inadequate

Takala rejects the opinion that there are no viable alternatives to asbestos in poorer, developing countries, particularly in Southeast Asia.

He also believes not enough is being done with asbestos already in place in more progressive countries in Europe and in the U.S.

The original objective of this study was to detail the magnitude of the problem with the latest evidence for the International Labour Organization and World Health Organization’s joint program on asbestos-related diseases.

The ICOH, which is based in Rome, is the world’s leading scientific society in the field of occupational health with a membership of more than 2,000 professionals from 93 countries.

“Present efforts to eliminate this man-made problem — an epidemiological disaster — and preventing exposures leading to it, are insufficient in most countries in the world,” the study concludes.

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Asbestos In The FNPF-Owned Building In Suva Poses No Threat

The Fiji National Provident Fund advises that asbestos-containing material has been identified at the Kwong Tiy Plaza building in Marks Street, Suva.

The asbestos-containing material was found in the fascia board and roofing insulation by the National Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Service of the Ministry of Employment.

The asbestos identified in the Plaza is well-contained in the building and does not pose any threat to the health and safety of occupants, surrounding stakeholders and the general public.

The Fund acquired the Kwong Tiy Plaza Building in 1994. Built in the early 1980’s, it was common for asbestos to be used in most buildings constructed or renovated at that time.

FNPF acknowledges its obligations as the property owner and is working closely with nominated consultants, asbestos removal contractor and the Ministry of Employment, in line with the Code of Practice for the Safe Removal of Asbestos and international best practices to safely remove the asbestos-containing material.


Air monitoring will be conducted regularly throughout the removal process to ensure that there are no airborne threats to the general public, workplace and the surrounding environment.

The FNPF sees its role as vital in dealing with the matter responsibly and requests the understanding and cooperation of our stakeholders in regards to this matter.

Source: Fiji National Provident Fund

OnTrack fined after employees exposed to asbestos

The Oregon Occupational and Safety and Health Division has fined OnTrack $19,350 after employees of the drug addiction recovery organization improperly handled asbestos at an apartment in west Medford.

OSHA inspected the building at 514 Hamilton St. on various dates in May and determined that OnTrack failed to follow proper procedures, provide protective equipment and communicate about the proper handling of asbestos with employees.

The 10 citations issued June 1 resulted from scraping acoustic ceiling without wetting it first and workers not wearing protective gear or disposing of the asbestos properly, including not placing it in air-tight containers.

“While OnTrack workers were renovating a property on Hamilton Street recently, part of the ceiling was mistakenly scraped, which contained asbestos materials,” said Eddie Wallace, OnTrack’s communications director, who responded by email to a request for comment from the Mail Tribune. “OnTrack immediately reported this episode to the DEQ (Oregon Department of Environmental Quality) and engaged in the cleaning and repair of the area according to strict DEQ guidelines.”

Wallace said OnTrack followed all the rules set by DEQ, though he didn’t address questions raised by the OSHA citations.

He said OnTrack employees have received updated training.

Wallace said the email statement would be the only response from his organization related to the OSHA citations.

According to OSHA documents, OnTrack employee Andy Scott filed the complaint, which led to the investigation and four different inspections May 8, May 9, May 11 and May 18.

Scott, a maintenance worker who started working for OnTrack last year, said his supervisors were dismissive when he questioned whether there might be asbestos in the “popcorn” ceiling that was being scraped off by other workers.

“I knew there was a risk there,” said Scott, who said he is seeking whistleblower protection from the Bureau of Labor and Industries. “They were minimizing that there are known carcinogens in there.”

He said he saw two piles of material on the ground, and a section of the ceiling had been scraped off. At this point, Scott said, he didn’t want to go into the apartment because the dust would likely have asbestos in it.

After being dismissed on other occasions, Scott said he contacted OSHA.

Analysis of debris from the apartment showed it contained up to 10 percent chrysotile asbestos.

The apartment on Hamilton was undergoing renovation, though it was locked up Friday and the interior was empty.

In the same building is another apartment, with an OnTrack family living inside.

The OSHA documents describe employees working in the apartment without whole-body clothing, head coverings or gloves. Protective clothing wasn’t required by OnTrack for the employees.

Once a common building material, asbestos was phased out in the 1970s and 1980s after health officials determined the fibers can cause serious and fatal illnesses, such as lung cancer and other diseases.

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