Products containing asbestos were prevalent throughout much of the 20th century. Manufacturers valued the naturally occurring mineral for its ability to insulate and fireproof materials. Asbestos was also cheap and durable, making it an ideal material to use for a number of common household items. Some of the most popular asbestos-containing consumer products included appliances, home construction materials, personal items and toys.
Asbestos exposure around the home typically occurs during a renovation, demolition or remodeling project. Before the 1980s, when homes were built with asbestos-containing materials, construction workers were prone to exposure. However, the use of the material in consumer products made exposure a hazard for many homeowners who unknowingly purchased contaminated products.
In some cases, products were advertised as asbestos-containing to make them more desirable. Although asbestos made products cheap, durable, fireproof, and gave them insulating properties, the risk for related diseases from exposure was neglected and hidden from the public. One example is vermiculite attic insulation, sold under the brand name Zonolite, which contained asbestos mined from a vermiculite deposit in Libby, Montana. This product was not advertised as containing the toxic mineral.
In addition to Zonolite insulation, there were a number of other contaminated consumer products manufactured for home use before the 1980s. Products like appliances, home construction materials, personal items and toys were known to contain asbestos, and some have been noted as a source for exposure.
Many household appliances were manufactured with asbestos for fireproofing purposes. If a product had the potential to overheat or reach high temperatures, it was often used to limit the possibility of a fire. One example was the Monarch Back-Flue, an oven lining product manufactured by the CorteScope Company. Contaminated strips were used in the seams to mount the oven liner to the oven.
Home construction materials containing asbestos have been a primary source for exposure. In addition to construction workers who installed, repaired and removed such products, homeowners who perform do-it-yourself projects may face the same exposure risks. Some of the first consumer products banned by the CPSC included asbestos-containing patching compounds and artificial fireplace ash.
In 2007 the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO) identified several consumer products that contained the toxic mineral. One was called CrackShot, a spackling paste manufactured by DAP. Another product was a roofing sealant called Leak Stopper, manufactured by Gardner Gibson.
Manufactured by W.R. Grace & Company, Zonolite attic insulation is possibly the most recognized asbestos product never banned by the CPSC. The vermiculite deposit in Libby contained tremolite asbestos, one of the more toxic forms of the mineral. The vermiculite that was mined was shipped and processed into attic insulation and other products around the country until 1992. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates about 30 million homes used Zonolite insulation. Any disturbance to this insulation during a remodel or renovation can present a serious exposure hazard.
Although less recognized as a primary exposure hazard, personal items such as hair dryers that reached high temperatures were sometimes made with the mineral. Another problematic item was the Baby Bottle Warmer manufactured by Hankscraft Company in 1955. The interior of the bottle warmer was lined with asbestos to provide insulation.
The CPSC issued a recall on asbestos-containing heat guns used by model airplane hobbyists in 1980. Manufactured by Top Flite Models, Inc. between 1974 and 1977, evidence showed the fibers became airborne while using the heat guns.
Toys containing asbestos have been a major concern because young children who are exposured are more susceptible to fibers that have entered the body. Infants and children who are exposed to asbestos can develop related diseases relatively early in life – sometimes before the age of 20. Over the years, a number of consumer toys have been manufactured with the toxic mineral.
In 2000, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported findings of asbestos in three major brands of crayons: Crayola, Prang and Rose Art. The asbestos was found in the talc used by the crayon manufacturers as a binding agent. Concentrations ranged from 0.03 percent to 2.86 percent. The CPSC examined the crayons and determined the risk for exposure was low but required the manufacturers to find a substitute for asbestos.
The ADAO's 2007 report also documented Plant Toys' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation Fingerprint Examination Kit as asbestos-containing. Test results indicated asbestos in the powders of the kit in concentrations as high as 7.2 percent. The ADAO also found the toys FLARP! and Clay Bucket, manufactured in china, to contain asbestos.
The CPSC was established to protect the public from unreasonable risks of injury or death from consumer products. Since the late 1970s, the CPSC has investigated numerous products that may pose an exposure risk for consumers. In 1983, a group of seven scientists were selected to serve as members of a Chronic Hazard Advisory Panel on the Use of Asbestos in Consumer Products.
One of the organization's biggest concerns when evaluating hazards is the likelihood of developing a related disease from exposure. This evaluation will determine whether the CPSC decides to ban a product. Products that contain asbestos increased the risk of lung cancer, asbestosis, mesothelioma and related diseases.
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