Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Asbestos Exposure Threatens U.S. Children

Asbestos found in children’s toys highlights the importance of asbestos awareness.

While asbestos is commonly recognized as a danger in construction and older buildings, a new report from the Environmental Working Group Action Fund found it in a much more unusual setting: toy store shelves. The report, published by the nonprofit on July 8, 2015, found asbestos fibers in four brands of crayons and two children’s fingerprinting kits – 12% total of all brands tested. While the toy boxes promise fun and excitement with familiar characters such as Mickey Mouse, the reality of what they contain is sobering, as families who buy them unwittingly put their children in danger.

Asbestos has been recognized as a health and safety risk for nearly a century, with scientists and doctors citing lung disease and cancer even after brief exposure. Mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, affects the lungs, the stomach, and the heart. The asbestos exposure that causes mesothelioma risk is sometimes indirect: even washing the clothes of a family member who’s been exposed to asbestos can still increase risk of the disease. Asbestos exposure can also cause lung cancer and other health problems. Because of the well-documented health and safety risks of asbestos, there are strict rules regulating construction in environments that contain asbestos, in an attempt to keep families and workers safe.

Asbestos found in crayons highlights the importance of asbestos removal
Asbestos is a serious health threat, and the recent discovery of asbestos in crayons is sparking concerns about its prevalence.

While there are regulations on construction, however, asbestos fibers are not prohibited in children’s toys and asbestos testing is rare. While the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission justifies this by describing asbestos fibers as embedded in the wax of the crayons and unlikely to escape, they neglect to consider the very real risk of children eating the crayons – and the asbestos within them. This failure to ensure asbestos removal puts lives at risk: Dr. Philip Landrigan, professor of pediatrics and preventive medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, explains that “Asbestos in toys poses an unacceptable risk to children.”

The report’s findings underscore the importance of enforcing a thorough system of asbestos testing and removal, especially when working around vulnerable populations. Richard Lemen, a retired surgeon general, described the prevalence of asbestos as “a breakdown in the system that is set up to protect the American public, specifically American children.” The presence of such dangerous fibers in children’s toys sharply underscores the importance of protecting children and adults alike from asbestos exposure.

While crayons and toys carry an obvious risk of exposure – young children will, after all, put almost anything in their mouths – it’s just as risky to live and work in a building that contains asbestos. The Environmental Working Group Action Fund’s report serves as a reminder of the risks of asbestos exposure, but also as an indication of where improvement is needed most. While toy store shelves may not be reliable, buildings containing asbestos are relatively safe thanks to strict rules that regulate construction. By using high-quality asbestos testing and removal techniques, contractors and workers can ensure that they protect themselves and those around them.

Quality asbestos removal is in urgent demand – get certified to safely work with asbestos and permanently remove this hazard from our communities.