US: Asbestos-Like Fibers in Crayons

Tuesday, June 13th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — The nation's top three crayon manufacturers have agreed to reformulate their crayons to remove asbestos-like fibers, even though government tests say the fibers pose little risk to the health of children.

The Consumer Product Safety Commission tested 25 crayons made by major manufacturers and found three contained amounts of asbestos too small to be scientifically significant, spokesman Russ Rader said Monday. However, 21 of the crayons contained larger amounts of ``transitional fiber,'' which is similar to asbestos.

Rader said because the fibers are imbedded in wax the chance of a child being exposed is extremely small, but as a precaution they had asked crayon manufacturers to reformulate their products.

``Where children are concerned you have to be extra cautious,'' said CPSC Chairwoman Ann Brown. ``The risk is low, but the concerns with these fibers should not be ignored.''

Dixon Ticonderoga, which makes Prang crayons, and Rose Art have agreed to use new formulas within a year, Rader said.

Binney and Smith, makers of Crayola crayons, also said they would follow the agency's recommendation.

``We expect that we'll be able to begin producing reformulated crayons that are equally safe, with the same quality,'' said Mark Schwab, the company's president.

Binney and Smith has said testing by an independent government-certified lab found no asbestos in Crayola crayons.

In a report published May 23, two labs hired by the Seattle-Post Intelligencer found 32 of 40 crayons from the three brands had asbestos contamination above trace levels. The article prompted inquiries by the government and within the industry.

The safety commission researchers found trace amounts of asbestos in two Crayola crayons and in one Prang crayon. But of the 25 tested, only two Crayola and two Rose Art crayons contained none of the transitional fibers.

There are no known reports of anyone getting sick from using or making crayons. And asbestos-related illness tends to result from exposure to airborne fibers, typically found in an industrial setting.

The agency researchers simulated a child using crayons for half an hour and found no fibers in the air. They also concluded that even if a child ate a crayon, there would be a low risk of exposure because the fibers are imbedded in wax.

``We want to allay parents' concerns and teachers' concerns. They can continue to allow children to use crayons without worry,'' Rader said. ``They crayons are not harmful.''

The asbestos and similar fibers in crayons are found in talc, which is used to keep crayons from breaking. The fibers exist naturally in the environment and become mixed in with the talc when that mineral is mined.

Rader said that even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that the transitional fibers be listed as a potential cancer-causing material along with asbestos, the safety commission decided there was no scientific basis for a crayon recall.