A recent test from a consumer advocacy group found toxic levels of asbestos — a mineral that can lead to lung cancer and mesothelioma if inhaled or ingested — in a popular brand of crayons sold by Dollar Tree, Amazon.com and other retailers.
The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) Education Fund tested 36 packs of Playskool crayons purchased from a Dollar Tree store in Chicago. All contained dangerous amounts of tremolite asbestos fibers, according to Kara Cook-Schultz, toxics director for U.S. PIRG.
The results were part of U.S. PIRG’s “Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide,” released Tuesday.
“We were testing a variety of different back-to-school products so people could make some wise decisions on what to buy,” Cook-Schultz told Asbestos.com. “We weren’t really zeroed in on asbestos or crayons, we just knew that asbestos had turned up in crayons in the past.”
Six other brands of crayons were tested from Houston, Denver, California and Chicago. Only the Playskool crayons tested positive for tremolite asbestos. The asbestos-free products included Crayola, Target’s Up & Up, Cra-Z-Art, Disney Junior Mickey and the Roadster Racers, and RoseArt.
Playskool’s parent company, Hasbro, told The Washington Post it is conducting a “thorough investigation” into the claims. Leap Year Publishing, the Massachusetts-based manufacturer of the crayons, is also reviewing its lab tests.
U.S. PIRG’s laboratory tests were conducted by Stat Analysis Corporation in Chicago. The group is now pressuring Dollar Tree and online retailers Amazon.com, eBay and DollarDays.com to stop selling the Playskool crayons in question.
Asbestos Found in Several Crayon Brands in 2015
A July 2015 report from the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund revealed crayon sets and toy fingerprint kits imported from China contained talc contaminated with asbestos fibers.
Four crayon brands were named in the report:
Saban Power Rangers Super Megaforce Crayons (Greenbrier International)
Disney Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Crayons (Greenbrier International)
Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Crayons (MII Inc.)
Amscan Crayons (Amscan)
The findings — coupled by pressure from lawmakers — forced Toys R Us, Party City, Amazon.com and Dollar Tree to pull the products from their shelves.
After the recent U.S. PIRG report, Dollar Tree executives are ensuring customers its crayons and other products are safe. The Jot-brand blue binder sold by the retailer was also listed in the report for containing high levels of phthalates, a toxic chemical used in plastics.
“The safety of our customers and associates is our top priority,” Randy Guiler, vice president of investor relations, wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “We are aware of the report and have since re-verified that each of the listed products successfully passed inspection and testing.”
How to Identify Product Safety
In its back-to-school guide, U.S. PIRG urges parents to look for Art and Creative Materials Institute-certified product seals (AP Approved Product and CL Cautionary Labeling) when buying art supplies such as crayons, markers and glue. These seals show a qualified toxicologist tested the product for acute and chronic hazards.
“We’re telling parents to look for that label, because then at least you know it’s being tested,” Cook-Schultz said. “And it’s better than nothing, certainly better than the nontoxic label that as far as we can tell has absolutely no meaning at all and doesn’t guarantee anything.”
For other school supplies such as lunch boxes or water bottles, Cook-Schultz said to look for a manufacture’s label called a Children’s Product Certificate (CPC), which certifies the product complies with all applicable children’s product safety rules.
“In order to get it, the manufacturer has to certify that the product was tested by a third-party lab and that those results are certified by the Consumer Products Safety Commission,” Cook-Schultz explained.
The Consumer Products Safety Commission does not do the testing, but the testing must come from a commission-certified lab.
“It’s not the perfect solution, but at least there’s some idea that it was tested by somebody in the U.S.,” she said.
For the U.S. PIRG back-to-school guide, Cook-Schultz said it was difficult to find products in big box stores such as Target that didn’t have the CPC label.
“Now at Dollar Tree, I didn’t see a single product that had it,” she said. “I think it may be growing as people become more aware of these problems. We’re trying to put pressure on more of that happening, and then if manufacturers are doing that, maybe we can get a little more accountability on those labels as well.”
U.S. PIRG will continue to fight for better laws, including a comprehensive ban on asbestos. Currently, asbestos is only banned in certain products and regulated in others.
“For today, we’re telling parents to look for those labels,” Cook-Schultz said.