5 Everyday Products that May Have Lurking Asbestos

child coloring with crayons
Unsplash: Aaron Burden

As early as the 1930s and 1940s, doctors confirmed that asbestos was causing serious illnesses among factory workers who handled the heat-resistant mineral. But that did not stop companies from continuing to use the material in building construction and household items.

Up until the late-1970s, asbestos was used in products to help you cook your food, get ready in the morning and even grow the plants in your garden. But it wasn’t until 1989 that the EPA banned asbestos and created a timeline for phasing it out. In 1991 that ban was overturned by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, making the substance legal in limited uses today. Although regulations regarding asbestos use are much tighter today than they were 40 or 50 years ago, the dangerous material may still be in your home.

All forms of asbestos can cause serious illnesses like asbestosis, mesothelioma, and ovarian, lung, or laryngeal cancers, though they may take decades after exposure to develop. If you do find items in your home that you think might be contaminated, don’t try to remove them on your own. Make sure to have a licensed professional remove the asbestos for you. Searching "asbestos removal" on a search engine should give you local results.

1. Crock Pots

Crock pots made prior to the mid-1970s contained asbestos, both as an insulator found in the lining between the inner and outer pots and around the power cord to help prevent electrical fires. Due to its excellent insulation abilities, crocidolite asbestos (also known as blue asbestos), was likely used as the insulation for the cords, mainly because the products would be plugged in for long periods of time.

2. Home Appliances

Asbestos wasn’t just in the kitchen. You could find asbestos-laden items all over the house, including hair dryers, ironing board covers and popcorn poppers. In the case of hair dryers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission called some of the biggest hair dryer manufacturers together to get those containing asbestos off shelves and out of homes. Unfortunately, a voluntary recall in 1979 only recovered a fraction of the 18 million affected dryers sold.

3. Toys

In 2015, CNN reported that asbestos was found in several boxes of crayons and two toy crime lab kits tested by a lab hired by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) Action Fund. In each case, the toys were produced in China and imported to the US. This wasn’t the first time the mineral has been found in these toys. Similar tests in 2000 found traces of asbestos in crayons, and a 2007 test by the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization found the substance in toy fingerprint exam kits.

4. Vermiculite Insulation (Zonolite)

Vermiculite is a lightweight and fire-resistant mineral that can expand between 8-30 times its size when exposed to high heat. For that reason, it found its way into attics, walls and other insulated areas. However, from 1919-1990, about 70 percent of the vermiculite sold in the U.S. was mined near Libby, MT, and was contaminated with asbestos. If you have vermiculite insulation in your home (usually sold by the brand name Zonolite), you can assume asbestos is there too.

5. Potting Soil

Vermiculite found in potting soil is great for seedlings because it absorbs water and helps retain moisture. It’s also inert, which helps protect seedlings from fungus and other killers. The problem is that the vermiculite used in some soils was also mined in Libby, MT, where asbestos contamination took place. Today’s vermiculite is much safer to use, though some gardeners now also use perlite, which has many of the same qualities but retains air and offers better drainage.

Asbestos has largely been removed from our daily lives in favor of much safer alternatives, though the mineral has still not been banned in the U.S. With that said, you may not have to look as hard as you think to find an asbestos-containing product in your home, and perhaps even find it in something you use every day.
 

About the author:

Charles MacGregor is a health advocate with the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance working to spread awareness about the disease and advocate for a ban of asbestos in the United States.