FairWarining Reports

Asbestos Found in Imported Crayons and Toy Fingerprint Kits

Asbestos has been found in several brands of children’s crayons and fingerprint kits made in China and sold in the U.S., according to tests commissioned by an environmental group.

The findings are detailed in a report being released today by the Environmental Working Group Action Fund. It marks the third time in 15 years that the cancer-causing substance has been detected in crayons or fingerprint toys marketed to children—apparently, due to the use of asbestos-contaminated talc.

Richard A. Lemen, an assistant U.S. Surgeon General during the 1990s and expert on asbestos, said it was “surprising … if not appalling,’’ that years after the previous discoveries asbestos could still be found in children’s products.


iStock photo

While acknowledging that asbestos concentrations in some of the products were “not very large,” Lemen said, “We should never introduce toxic substances to products that children will be playing with– particularly carcinogens such as asbestos.’’

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which regulates the safety of toys and other consumer products, is taking the report “very seriously,’’ said agency spokesman Scott Wolfson. “CPSC staff is going to follow up on the products identified in their report,” he said. “The safety of children is of utmost importance to the agency.’’

Asbestos is a name for the fibrous form of a number of minerals that pose a risk of deadly illnesses if their microscopic, lung-scarring fibers are inhaled. Because it is occurs in some talc deposits, asbestos can turn up in consumer products without being deliberately added—such as when talc is used to make fingerprint powder, or as a stabilizer in crayons.

The report called on the CPSC to ban the use of talc in children’s products, such as crayons, chalk and fingerprint kits. In a statement reacting to the findings, U.S. Senators Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called for the CPSC to be provided ‘’the resources necessary to intercept these dangerous imported products before they reach the hands of children,’’ and said retailers should ‘’quickly cease sales and issue voluntary recalls of toxic products.”

The environmental group said it confirmed the presence of asbestos in crayons and fingerprint powders by testing samples at two analytical labs. Both labs detected asbestos in four of the Chinese-made crayon sets: Disney Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Saban’s Power Rangers Super Megaforce crayons, both imported by Greenbriar International Inc.; Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crayons, imported by MII Inc.; and Amscan Crayons, imported by Amscan.

Both labs also found asbestos fibers in the fingerprint powders of two crime scene kits: EduScience Deluxe Forensics Lab Kit, which EWG said it purchased at a Toys”R”Us store; and Inside Intelligence Secret Spy kit, distributed by Buy-Rite and purchased on Amazon.com.

Photo of Richard A. Lemen

“It was really surprising to me, if not appalling,…that the asbestos could still be detected from these two products coming from China, which indicated to me that someone had dropped the ball.”
– Richard A. Lemen, former U.S. assistant Surgeon General

The report named two other products– EduScience Crime Lab fingerprint powder, and Disney Doc McStuffins Jumbo Crayons—in which asbestos was found by one lab but not confirmed by the other.

No asbestos was found in 19 other crime lab kits and 24 crayon sets, including several with the Crayola brand.

The report said it was uncertain if companies whose names or characters appeared on packages played any role in manufacturing the products, or simply licensed their trademarks.

Most of the companies involved in retailing or licensing the products cited by EWG – including The Walt Disney Co., Amazon.com, and Saban Brands – declined to comment or failed to respond to repeated requests for comment.

But Toys”R”Us said in a statement: “We require that every product we carry meets or exceeds all applicable state and federal laws, industry standards, codes and requirements. At this time, we are reviewing the referenced report, along with supplier test reports, to ensure full compliance to our strict safety standards.”

Dollar Tree Inc. – a retailer that, EWG said, sold three of the tainted crayon brands and imported two of the brands through its Greenbrier International subsidiary—also issued a statement responding to the report. “The safety of our customers is paramount and we work constantly to ensure our suppliers’ products are compliant and safe. To that end, we have a very robust and stringent test program” that includes working with testing companies accredited by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Randy Guiler, the Dollar Tree vice president who released the statement, said the crayon brands cited by EWG had gone through the company’s testing program. However, Guiler declined to comment on EWG’s test results and wouldn’t say whether Dollar Tree will retest the products or stop selling them.

David Bittler, a spokesman for Nickelodeon, said the Nickelodeon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Crayons cited by EWG are a licensed product and not made by his company. Bittler said he “will contact” the manufacturer, but wouldn’t identify that business or say what further action Nickelodeon might take.

The EWG Action Fund is the lobbying arm of the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization. The tests of crayons and crime scene kits is part of a broader asbestos awareness project carried out by the group with financial support from the American Association for Justice, the leading trial lawyers’ group.

Asbestos-related cancers mostly strike workers after years of manufacturing, installing or repairing asbestos products. But scientists say no level of asbestos exposure is considered safe, pointing to people afflicted with asbestos-related diseases despite what appeared to be minimal exposure. Among these are mesothelioma, a lethal cancer of the lining of the lung or abdomen that is predominantly caused by asbestos, and that typically shows up 30 to 40 years after initial exposure.

John M. Dement, a Duke University professor of occupational and environmental medicine, said that because asbestos in crayons is bound in the wax, ‘’probably the largest risk is going to be with the workers” who make the crayons, rather than the kids who use them.

But the fingerprint powder ‘’will probably present more of an inhalation hazard,” Dement said. “It doesn’t really take a lot …Percentages [of asbestos] that are in the 1 percent and less could still be important.”

“It’s certainly an unnecessary risk,’’ he said. ‘’Talc itself is not entirely innocuous, but having asbestos…is going to increase the cancer risk, of course.’’

The CPSC was alerted to asbestos in crayons in 2000, when the Seattle Post-Intelligencer commissioned tests of well-known U.S. brands–including Crayola, made by Binney and Smith, and Prang, made by Dixon Ticonderoga– that used talc from a suspect deposit in upstate New York.

The agency then confirmed with its own tests that there were trace amounts of asbestos in some of the crayons. In a report issued in August, 2000, the CPSC said the risk of children inhaling or ingesting asbestos fibers from crayons appeared to be ‘’extremely low.” Still, the agency said it got agreement from major manufacturers to reformulate their crayons. The “CPSC will continue to monitor children’s crayons to ensure that they do not present a hazard,” the report said. Asked about the statement, Wolfson, the CPSC spokesman, said the agency has been focused on regulating other safety risks to children in the years since.

Controversy over fingerprint kits erupted in 2007, when tests commissioned by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization found asbestos in a Chinese-made fingerprint kit licensed by CBS under the name of its popular TV series, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. The kits were eventually recalled as part of a legal settlement.

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5 comments to “Asbestos Found in Imported Crayons and Toy Fingerprint Kits”

  1. Mark

    We just paid for a certified lab test some Chinese made economy house brand (not sold in the US) crayons, “crayon twisters”, and found Tremolite

  2. Hardy Bluebells

    Tell us some of the safe brands of crayons and that will really turn things around fast. While you think no one is listening or reading what you write, you may actually be surprised how many are taking notes. It is just the beginning before people start parting with their money, if they have any to part with. By listing some of the good brands without asbestos, then you make something important happen. You see people really do vote with their buying power. Although, it does not line your pockets to start with, it brings attention to you, because you actually provided a valuable service. The good brand suppliers will not be upset with the extra business. You will actually be doing a service. Also, perhaps there should be laws about how close manure can be spread or left off at by rivers or lakes. You could suggest that as a possible thing that needs to be done. It is a huge turn off to regular folks to hear someone vegan saying anti cow things. It hurts the real issue of water pollution. Maybe there is a state where cattle should not be allowed, or places, How long have there been farms with farm animals on them in California where you have water shortages? How close are they to a water supply like a river or lake, and are they part of the problem? Perhaps giving attention to the ones that are truly destructive where their farm is running off into the rivers. There are places in Wisconsin and Minnesota where there are farmers no where near any water source like a river or lake. Imposing dumb laws on them is insane. Also, there are many practical and wonderful applications of manure, something you failed to understand. Your articles about manure are froth with half truths. There is soil everywhere with certain amounts of contaminants in it, even where no animals have been. Also, many people who farm have a higher education than you do. They really are not some unintelligent bunch of people. While cities move out into the land of farming, it really is unfair and crude of your articles to mention smell. There are so many more individuals who want a hamburger and leather. While you move out next to a farmer, where they live, you should show some respect, or at least don’t move there if you don’t like that. The farmer was there first in almost all cases. Consider balance. Your articles can be most disrespectful and lacking a whole picture. We see how vegans see themselves as more intelligent and better than everyone else. Let’s talk when there are no farms at all where your lettuce, spinach, and food is grown. Having real balance is important, even in your articles. If there is a water shortage there, why are you still living there? You are not exactly known for your common sense or balance. How come we keep taking oil out of the earth, when we know what the plates in the earth float on? Earthquakes? I know how some believe California is turning into a dessert. Is it? While I know I don’t know everything, I am not writing the articles and someone really needs to have balance there, overseeing the articles. Did you know there is even a purpose for methane? If you are wondering how to get people to donate towards a cause, you need to know what is important to real people everywhere. You need to offer a real service that is completely respected by everyone. You are so biased that your site is not for the regular person, at this point. You only need have one article that is based on half truths and you will soon find yourselves broke. You need someone who can really see a much clearer picture so you don’t come off to the rest of the world as half baked. While we want a food supply we must limit what we allow as far as chemicals use in this country. Somethings just don’t make any sense by anyone’s standards. Start there. Try to be fair and make sound decisions, if you are able to. If not, get yourselves an overseeing individual or group to do this for you. Some GMO’s are killing us all. Greed has allowed this. Some seeds are made to be self-terminating, also. This is real greed and if there is a disaster in a mass scale, could mean the death of just about everyone. Corporations can literally get away with more because they have the money and we are all in trouble for this, even them. Why, is this kind of greed allowed? Seeds are being genetically modified to die or not reproduce the second time around. Only a few control the seeds. Wow…. where are you? I am your typical country person, and even this scares me. Seed’s should always be able to be saved and used and still work to produce crops. Most people can’t grow seeds, anyway, because they don’t have the time, or know how, or are just too lazy. So if these corporations run the world with their total greed, we are all in trouble. Where are your articles on that? You need help writing your articles so you are offering a real service, and you have a lawyer on staff to make sure your articles are written so no one can sue you and get away with it. You must offer a real service to the mass of people, so everyone benefits in all kinds of times. It is like I don’t own a gun, because I just don’t want to, but I believe in restrictions and especially for guns. I believe not everyone should have one (mental illness). There should be limits on what kinds of guns and rifles should be allowed to the people. Some things just don’t make any sense at all. If you never go hunting and don’t take those classes, you should not be allowed to own a gun or rifle. It makes sense. In order to own a hand gun you should have to take classes. This is how things get done. You write about the obvious. After the obvious happens, you then work on the smaller parts of the possible problems that come to light in a fair and equitable manner. Common sense and balance are important qualities to have. I am not a public person and don’t care to be published, so if you just read this and take it to heart, applying what you can live with, it is fine with me. Cancers from talc really did get my attention in a good way. It was well-written for the most part. You who are the writers are on the front lines. I do respect you. Keep on trying. I really did not know about the crayons and wanted to know. Thanks. Not all cow farmers are bad in everyone’s eyes. You need balance and common sense. It is an observation. Good luck.

  3. sammie

    Very scary stuff! Thanks for sharing and making us aware of where asbestos could be hiding! We all need to be careful about what we use, but in this day and age where we know so much about the dangers of asbestos, why are companies using this deadly substance?!

  4. LOki

    There is a reason that they are (irresponsibly) not publishing the precise concentrations of asbestos these laboratories found in these products.

    I suspect it’s because you’re likely to find more asbestos in your lunch.

    This was mostly fear-mongering the first time around… it is 100% shameless fear-mongering now.

  5. Cami Gorsky

    I used to shave crayons into tiny pieces, lay the colors between Wax paper then iron them and melt the crayon wax. It was like making a stain glass picture to a kid. You could make different color patterns or block designs. Would shaving crayons “release” the asbestos? Also children EAT All kinds of things, could that eventually hurt or increase the chances of stomach lining mesothelioma? SCARY IT ISNT ENOUGH PROBABLY ALONE BUT ADD IT TO ALL THE OTHER EXPOSURES THAT WE DONT KNOW ABOUT. You know….accumulative effect. Thanks, Cami G. Retired R.N.

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