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.
Summertime traditionally brings family trips, school vacations, as well as plenty of hot uncomfortable weather. Those sunny days, however, often come with high humidity and afternoon thundershowers — ideal conditions for annoying and potentially toxic mold.
It’s a pervasive menace that is poised each summer to grow and thrive in your house. Left unattended, fast-growing mold can cause damage that will cost in the thousands of dollars to eradicate or, worse, pose a dangerous threat to the health of your entire family.
Gots’s estimate refers to mold that is at an “elevated level” and therefore should be addressed if the conditions exist for the mold to take hold and grow.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets levels for acceptable radon levels as well as a threshold for lead in the house or water supply, and states regulate termite inspections and control compliance. Yet there are no federal or state regulations that dictate a safe level of mold for a residential property.
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) has been campaigning for several years to pass legislation that would require residential property owners, including landlords, to disclose the presence of mold in their apartment, condo or house. This legislation is still pending.
According to the District’s housing code, the Department of Consumer Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) inspectors cannot cite a homeowner for mold because the city considers mold to be “an environmental problem,” rather than a housing or safety issue. Mold, of course, is notoriously difficult to detect, and what may look like dangerous mold can only be legitimately determined under a microscope by a competent inspector or lab. Additionally, most homeowner insurance policies will not cover damage from mold — they consider it a “preventable” condition.
In reality, mold is a fungus that can grow anywhere moisture is present. Mold spores thrive in warm temperatures (77 to 86 degree Fahrenheit) and wherever there are damp conditions. Mold spores are in the air we breathe, and they can grow on any surface. In a house, mold can be found in ceilings and walls, under sinks, in drywall, hidden behind wallpaper or baseboards, in the ductwork or even on furniture and clothes. It can also grow outdoors under wood piles or mulch, gutters or abandoned trash.
Mold in a house can lay dormant until it gets the needed heat and humidity to grow and multiply. Additionally, it needs a food source, such as dust, dirt or some other organic debris.
While not everyone will react to this growth in the same way, those sensitive to allergic or toxic mold can develop alarming symptoms upon merely entering a contaminated room. The result can be a serious — even life-threatening — illness if not treated in time.
If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to mold — or begin to experience dizziness, fatigue, nausea, shortness of breath or other symptoms of illness — contact a mold specialist and have your property inspected as soon as possible. Licensed professionals will test the air quality of your house and take samples of the visual mold, which will be sent to a qualified lab for evaluation.
In addition to the traditional methods for eradicating mold (such as using chemicals or chlorine bleach and physically removing infected surfaces), there is a new, enzyme-based alternative. Previously used as a protective spray for fruits and vegetables, it is now available for home use.
Jenn Sherwood, manager of Green Home Solutions of Maryland, says that the enzyme spray is a cost-effective, time-saving and environmentally responsible way for homeowners to eradicate mold. The process uses a “fogger,” which emits a fine spray that is able to penetrate most porous surfaces (such as drywall) or even non-visible areas — behind walls or inside insulation. This method of eradicating mold often eliminates the need to remove and replace the existing material.
The EPA regards this spray as nontoxic to humans or pets and harmless to both surfaces and belongings in the home. The enzyme works by creating a bond with the mold spore, and then breaking it down from the inside. As a result, the mold is chemically altered into a particle that is no longer allergenic, toxigenic, or able to reproduce other spores. This treatment can cost from one-third to one-tenth less than the cost of traditional methods.
Given that your insurance company may not cover mold damage, it’s important to take immediate action.
Here are three easy steps to help prevent mold when you go on vacation:
●Check for areas where water could accumulate — such as around windows, doors, bathroom leaks, kitchen sinks and washing machines.
●Clean surfaces of oil, soap, dust and dirt. Those materials are a feeding ground for mold when moisture is present.
●Set the temperature inside the house in the low 70s, if possible. If you suspect humidity, set a dehumidifier to keep the moisture level below 60 percent. In your closet, place a hanging moisture absorber (such as Damp Rid) that will trap excess humidity and eliminate musty odors.
Sandy Gadow, a freelance writer and author of “The Complete Guide to Your Real Estate Closing,”
Maintaining a healthy home goes beyond dusting and vacuuming. When is the last time you checked your smoke alarms? How about the last time you cleaned out your dryer vent? Follow the tips below to make sure your family and home are ready for a happy, clean spring season.
Grab a ladder, and check your gutters for debris. Remove as much as you can with your hands (Don’t forget to wear gloves!). Remove any leftover gunk with a garden hose. Take off any nozzle and have a helper turn on the water when you’re ready. Shove the hose into the downspout to power out of gooseneck bends. Make sure your downspouts channel water at least five feet from foundation walls.
Scrub Walls, Baseboards and Outlets
Scrub all the walls — in the bathroom, kitchen, bedrooms and living areas — with a sponge or brush and mild soap and water. This includes baseboards and outlets. Make sure to completely dry outlet covers before replacing.
Tom DiPace/AP Images
Replace all filters including water, range hood and air vent filters. You should replace these filters every 3-6 months depending on the type of filter you have.
Clean Faucets and Showerheads
Unscrew the faucet aerators, sink sprayers and showerheads, and soak them in equal parts vinegar and water solution. Let them soak for an hour, then rinse with warm water.
Clean Out the Dryer Vent
Sarah Wilson / Getty Images
A clogged dryer vent can be a fire hazard. To clean it, disconnect the vent from the back of the machine and use a dryer vent brush to remove lint. Outside your house, remove the dryer vent cover and use the brush to remove lint from the other end of the vent line. Make sure the vent cover flap moves freely.
Wash Exterior Windows
Hire a window-cleaning service to clean all exterior windows.
Keep Allergens Away
Photos: Christopher Shane/Styling: Elizabeth Demos
A house with a crawl space has vents along the foundation walls. The vents provide air circulation that helps prevent excess moisture and mold growth, and they prevent critters from taking up residence underneath your home. The screens collect leaves and other debris from fall and winter. Spring is a great time to clean them out and check for damage. Clean the vents by hand or use a shop vacuum. Repair any damaged screens — critters can get through even the smallest holes.
Clean the Grill
Your grill has most likely collected dust during fall and winter. Help your grill live a long life with these maintenance tips, whether you have a charcoal or gas grill.
Prep Your Garden
You can’t have a successful garden without good soil. Follow these tips on how to prepare your soil to help you grow a lush garden.
Test Smoke Alarms
Test smoke alarms and CO detectors, and change out batteries as needed. It’s cheap, only takes a few minutes and can save your family’s lives.
Well Living Lab will undertake a three-year scientific research plan to identify how indoor environments affect five facets of people’s lives.
How indoor environments affect five significant facets of people’s lives—health, performance, stress and resiliency, sleep, and comfort—will be the focus of an extensive three-year scientific research plan conducted by the Well Living Lab. Studies will examine the five factors for homes, workplaces, and independent living communities. A critical component of the research is the interplay of elements such as sound, lighting, temperature, and air quality, all of which can be altered in various combinations to uncover positive, neutral, and negative effects on people.
“Our responsibility is to advance the science by conducting human-centered research that can be used in practical ways,” said Brent Bauer, M.D., medical director of the Well Living Lab and director of medicine for Mayo Clinic’s Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program. “It’s our belief that favorable outcomes can be realized, which will have long term benefits for people’s lives.”
A variety of experiments will be reviewed, approved, and monitored by the Institutional Review Board of Mayo Clinic. Questions to be explored include:
How office workers respond to artificial lighting that simulates natural light, not just at work, but also how it may change their ability to get sufficient sleep at home.
How changes in environmental conditions affect sleep and stress.
What types interventions can increase cognitive performance and improve job satisfaction.
The research will further build on the results of the Well Living Lab’s latest study findings, published in Building and Environment. The study found that temperature, noise, and lighting in open office environments affect employees’ ability to get work done. This was a proof-of concept study that demonstrated the strength of living lab methodology in measuring realistic occupant responses to select environmental changes in an open office. Specifically, it indicated that employees are most sensitive to thermal conditions, followed by work-related noise such as conversations and lack of natural light from windows when working in open office environments.These factors affected work environment satisfaction, productivity, and even carried over into the mood of employees and their sleep.
The study consisted of eight working age participants who spent 18 weeks in a simulated work environment in which acoustics, lighting, and temperature were manipulated in numerous combinations, and the findings were based on occupant responses to surveys and in-depth interviews.
“We want to understand the effect of environmental conditions and combinations of conditions to improve health and well-being, including performance, comfort, stress and resilience, and sleep,” said Dr. Bauer. “This study is just the beginning. We will continue to explore the relationship of environmental factors in the workplace and at home.”
The direction for this scientific exploration was solidified by Mayo Clinic and Delos, as well as the lab’s scientific advisory board with members from academia and governmental institutions including Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Carnegie Mellon University; National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive & Kidney Diseases; Stanford University; University of California; UC Berkley; US General Services Administration and University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands.
“We know that passive design elements in our homes, offices, and buildings can contribute to our health and well-being,” said Peter Scialla, COO of Delos and co-chair of the Well Living Lab’s Joint Steering Committee. “This research will further advance change for the building industry and result in innovative design, products, materials, and technologies.”