Crayons are generally an innocuous children’s product, but a consumer-advocacy group has discovered a dangerous substance in one brand. In a newly released report on 27 back-to-school products, the United States Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, revealed that some green crayons in packs by Playskool, available at Dollar Tree, Amazon, and eBay, contained a toxic chemical with a deadly history: asbestos. The substance is known to cause mesothelioma and lung cancer, and is suspected to contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney cancer.
This sort of testing and detection of toxic chemicals is nothing new. Last year, the U.S. PIRG found lead in fidget spinners, and in 2015, the Environmental Working Group found trace amounts of asbestos in crayons. But the new incident highlights a hard-to-nail-down problem in the increasing availability of products on the internet: Enforcing bans with such disparate points of sale is an incredible challenge, and can make keeping kids safe a logistical nightmare.
In their investigation, the U.S. PIRG discovered that two other children’s products containing toxic materials were currently available: a three-ring binder containing phthalates, a plastic that is being investigated for suspected links to asthma and birth defects; and markers containing benzene, a common chemical that’s known to cause leukemia and potentially other types of cancers. The reason these products are available, says Kara Cook-Schultz, a co-writer for the report, is that there aren’t strict laws that protect Americans from every potentially dangerous chemical. Benzene is allowed in concentrations less than 5 percent; asbestos is allowed in concentrations less than 1 percent.