Asbestos in Crayons?!

from MSNBC

How big a threat is this, really?

They surmise that the asbestos found in the crayons is due to the talc content, as asbestos is naturally found alongside talc when talc is mined. This puts a couple of questions in my mind:

What does that mean to all of the hard working people who work in the talc mines and talc plants for companies such as Pfizer? Are these folks being subjected, daily, to asbestos in the course of their work?

Also, what about baby powder, and other talcum powders? If the amount of asbestos found in the minimal quantity of talc used for crayons is that significant, how high must the levels in cosmetic powders be?!

The asbestos in crayons doesn’t have me throwing out my extensive, life-long crayon collection,since one can’t really inhale crayon, but the idea of baby powder being loaded with the stuff scares me!

And May I offer Kudos to, which was the only one, of 4 search engines I tried, to find a story about this for me.


Here’s more poop the crayon/asbestos hype. This first link is from CNN. This one is from The Seattle Post-Intelligencer who first broke the story (or so they claim). And finally, here’s a safety statement from Binney-Smith, the makers of Crayola® crayons.

No one should be using talc as baby powder. It’s not as hazardous as asbestos but is still a lung irratant. If you need to powder your babies use cornstarch. Can’t have babies getting silicosis like coal miners now.

[minor hijack] Crayons? I found a 64-pack last night, when cleaning a closet. They probably hadn’t been used for five or six years and did they ever smell! I didn’t know crayons could go bad, but these sure did. Phew! [end hijack]

Padeye’s suggestion of corn starch as a safer baby powder is a good one, but with this caveat: don’t use it if your baby is prone to yeast infections. Yeast will happily feed on corn starch.

It seems to me, from reading the news story, that if the plant which makes the crayons has shown no asbestos contamination and their workers aren’t making any claims of asbestos related disease, then there is no worry about the trace amounts of asbestos in some crayons.

To raise a hue and cry about it now would be premature, pending the new governmental studies.


The problem with asbestos is the same as with talc and silica…particle size. When you inhale particles too small to be expelled and too large to be absorbed they remain in your lungs and irritate the lining. This irritation prompts a response from your body often resulting in abnormal growth of the tissue (i.e. cancer).
In order to get asbestosis, or talcosis or silicosis (see a trend here?) you have to inhale the particles. Talc, as a rule, should not be inhaled…period. If you use talc to dust a baby bottom do so with as little airborne dust as possible. Corn starch works well but is also very flammable (reference “Evening Shade” with Burt Reynolds). The folks who work with bulk powders should be trained in the use of personal protective devices (read: respirators) to avoid breathing in the dust.
As for the crayons…media hype. Is would be very difficult to extract and inhale any asbestos contained in crayons. Just because kids use them it’s become an issue. Our children are exposed to much more asbestos walking down the hall in their elementary school.
Asbestos must become airborne and inhaled into the lungs before it becomes a health hazard. It’s a long trip through a lot of snot…

Right on, TheBori!!!

I wouldn’t worry about either the talc or asbestos (contamination of talc) in the crayons. If you were to worry about either of them, worry more about the talc. The types of asbestos (asbestos is not a substance… it is a class of substance… not all of which are considered harmful) that are harmful to your lungs are harmful due to mechanical damage to the lungs, not chemical or magic. This is also true of talc. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there is asbestos in the crayons. If this is true, it came from the asbestos contaminating the talc, and was not an intentional ingredient of the crayon. Since the asbestos is a contaminant of the talc, we can assume that there is MUCH, MUCH, MUCH more talc in the crayon than there is asbestos (barring a SEVERE contamination problem :wink: ). Since the talc and the asbestos both harm the lungs via similar means (physical damage), the potential damage from each of the materials will mostly be a function of concentration (I believe that the asbestos does more damage per particle, but not nearly enough to make up for the VAST difference in concentration).

There is MUCH more talc in the crayon, so it would be the one to watch out for.

Now… should we watch out for talc in our crayons? No. Crayons are mostly wax. They don’t contain very much talc in the first place. Let’s imagine that 1/10 th of a box of crayons is talc. Now imagine a kid being exposed (exposed, not inhaling every last particle) to that quantity of talc over the course of how ever long it takes to use an entire box of crayons. That exposure will be FAR less than babies were exposed to during the “talc based baby powder” era, and while some people have had (significant) lung problems as a result of their exposure, most do not.

With me so far? Not much to worry about so far… right? There’s one more thing. Up ‘till now, we’ve been assuming a very big thing… that the kids are actually able to inhale a portion of the talc. What happens when you dust a very dusty table with a dry paper towel? It gets kicked up into the air, and you send the dust flying in all directions, only to have to dust again later. How do you prevent this? You wet your paper towel. When the dust is wetted, it will not “fly” around everywhere. Do you ever see dust blowing off a lake? Of course not. The same thing is true with the crayons. Think of the crayon wax as a VERY viscous liquid. The talc in the crayon is wetted, and is not going to “fly” around anywhere, thus further decreasing the possibility of lung exposure.

I have a 10 month old son, who I love more than anything, and will not hesitate to let him play with crayons when he is old enough.

I think the story that started all of this mess was EXTREMELY irresponsible. The news media can be very lazy on their fact checking, and the laziness seems to increase exponentially in direct proportion to the level of panic a given story may cause. I hope the various manufacturers of crayons are not hurt too much by this “YOUR KIDS COULD DIE” story.

I’ve never noticed a particularly foul odor from aging crayons, but has anyone ever noticed that the copper colored crayons tarnish? Very bizarre.

Thanks for your input, all!

this brings up one of my pet peeves. People and the media often exagerate the risks of things. Get a almanic and look up what people actually causes of death. death by crayola would be to small to measure. But saying “something is going to kill your kids, tune in at 5” get lots of viewers.

Oh, but something is going to kill your kids… but hopefully not for another 70 or 80 years, and I don’t know specifically what it’ll be. :wink:

The ‘asbestos in crayons’ deal reminds me of two other “controversies”…

  1. Lake Pepin is a wide spot in the Mississippi River roughly halfway between the Cities and Winona. About 20 years ago there was a big mercury scare - catch all the fish you want but don’t keep and eat them because the mercury will kill you. (Granted, at the time, the river WAS pretty fouled up due to pesticde/herbicde runoff, industry in the Cites, etc.). A couple of years later another study came out which said that a person would have to eat [an absurd number of pounds] of fish for [several] years for the mercury to have an appreciable affect on humans.

  2. I used to work for a catalog company that, when shipping out ceramic dishes to California, had to include a Proposition 65 warning. It was explained to me thusly: Due to CA’s strict environmental laws, if the factory that manufactured the paint, clay, or anything else had lead anyplace in the plant this warning had to go with the product. Which translated to "Yep, there may be one atom of lead in this saucer. Sorry. Hope it doesn’t kill you. <I just tried to access the site and came up with ‘access denied’ errors for the Prop, so please let me know if you find it.>

Asbestos was used for brake lining. Yep, the road is full of it. No one says much about it. I once asked a brake shop owner if he was concerned & boy was he.