Where are your child’s crayons? In a drawer, a shoebox, a backpack or an arts and crafts kit? Wherever they are, they’re probably among your child’s favorite playthings.
But a new study commissioned by EWG Action Fund found those crayons and other toys could contain a surprising–and highly toxic–substance that many Americans believe was banned decades ago: asbestos.
Twenty-eight boxes of crayons and 21 crime scene fingerprint kits for kids were tested for asbestos by the Scientific Analytical Institute in Greensboro, N.C., using the most sensitive detection methods available. Four of the crayon brands and two of the fingerprint kits revealed traces of asbestos—toxic mineral fibers that cause lung cancer and other serious diseases.
All of the contaminated products were made in China. Several were licensed with popular kids’ characters, such as Mickey Mouse and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Kids lovingly wear down crayons through frequent use—as many as 730 crayons by age 10, according to Crayola—and sometimes chew or eat them. Fingerprint kits contain loose powders that kids blow and possibly inhale; the kits even include brushes and straws that make this easier.
The suspected origin of the asbestos in the items that tested positive is talc, a binding agent in crayons and an ingredient in fingerprint powder. Asbestos deposits are frequently found in talc mines and may contaminate talc products. Although the crayons pose a lower risk than the powders, scientists agree that there is no safe level of asbestos exposure.
The dangers of asbestos have been public since the 1970s. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has known about asbestos in crayons for 15 years, and eight years ago asbestos was found in another brand of fingerprint toy. Shockingly, these products are legal in 49 states—only Connecticut bans asbestos in children’s toys.