When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported May 23 that a laboratory it hired found asbestos in three popular brands of crayons, hundreds of schools around the country anxiously pulled the crayons from their classrooms.

Now, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) says the crayons pose little risk to the health of children.

CPSC tested 25 crayons made by major manufacturers and found a trace amount of asbestos in two Crayola crayons made by Binney & Smith and one Prang crayon made by Dixon Ticonderoga. But the amount of asbestos was so small it was scientifically insignificant, the commission said.

Twenty-one of the 25 crayons tested contained larger amounts of another fiber, called “transitional” fiber, which is similar in appearance to asbestos fiber. Transitional fibers can be found in talc, which is used as a binding agent in some crayons to keep them from breaking.

CPSC tests concluded that the chance a child would be exposed to these fibers either through inhalation or ingestion is extremely low, and there is no scientific basis for a recall. However, CPSC concluded that these fibers should not be in children’s crayons in the long term.

The agency researchers simulated a child vigorously coloring with a crayon 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,” CPSC spokesman Russ Rader said. “The crayons are not harmful.”

As a precaution, because crayons are intended for use by children, CPSC asked the industry to reformulate crayons using substitute ingredients. Binney & Smith and Dixon Ticonderoga quickly volunteered to reformulate within a year to eliminate the fibers, the commission said. Rose Art Industries, which has only a small percentage of crayons made with talc, also agreed to reformulate.

“Where children are concerned, you have to be extra cautious,” said CPSC Chairman Ann Brown. “The risk is low, but the concerns with these fibers should not be ignored. I’m pleased that all the major manufacturers, including Crayola, Prang, and Rose Art, went the extra mile to allay concerns about these fibers.”

Asbestos is a known carcinogen when it enters the lungs and also can cause asbestosis, a chronic lung disease that can cause respiratory failure. But 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 CPSC tests were conducted by a government lab and a private lab to see whether consistent results would be obtained. Both labs had similar results. The sophisticated testing included analysis of the fibers through light refraction and visual examination through an electron microscope, the commission said.

Links:

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 4330 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814; phone (800) 638-2772, web http://www.cpsc.gov.

Binney & Smith Inc., 1100 Church Lane, Easton, PA 18044-0431; phone (800) CRAYOLA, web http://www.binney-smith.com.

Dixon Ticonderoga Company, 195 International Pkwy., Heathrow, FL 32746-5036; phone (407) 829-9000, fax (407) 829-2574, web http://www.dixonticonderoga.com.

Rose Art Industries, 6 Regent Street, Livingston, NJ 07039; phone (973) 535-1313, web http://www.roseart.com.