WASHINGTON -- The nation's top three crayon manufacturers have agreed to reformulate their product to eliminate an ingredient that may contain asbestos or asbestos-like fibers, after Consumer Product Safety Commission tests found small amounts of the cancer-causing material in some crayons.
The findings, to be announced formally Tuesday, were not considered serious enough to warrant a recall, CPSC officials said. They believe the crayons now on the market pose an extremely low health risk to children because the fibers are embedded in wax.
Even so, the agency urged crayon makers to quickly come up with a substitute for talc, which is used to strengthen the crayon and considered to be the source of the asbestos and asbestos-like fibers. Talc has also been used in some chalk and modeling clay.
CPSC Chairman Ann Brown said Monday the agency will review the composition of these products to see if they also need to be reformulated. ''The bottom line is, when children are involved, you have to be extra cautious,'' Brown said. ''Crayons are made specifically for kids, and we don't think any of these fibers should be in children's crayons.''
Until reformulated crayons are widely available, in about a year, Brown urged parents and teachers to continue to use the crayons already purchased.
The CPSC crayon probe came after the Seattle Post-Intellingencer reported in late May that two government-certified labs had analyzed crayons, at the paper's request, and found asbestos in 32 of 40 crayons. All three brands were found to have asbestos, but in varying levels.
The crayon manufacturers immediately denounced the newspaper's findings as completely wrong, adding that their talc supplier, R. T. Vanderbilt Co. Inc., had certified that the talc it was shipping from its New York mine was free of asbestos.
The CPSC sent 25 crayons to two laboratories for analysis. The results found trace amounts of asbestos in three crayons and larger amounts of asbestos-like fibers in 21.
Asbestos has been found to cause cancer and a wide variety of lung diseases, and a growing number of scientists believe asbestos-like fibers in talc also cause cancer.
The CPSC said that because the fibers in the crayons are embedded in wax, it is extremely unlikely that children can inhale them. Even eating crayons should not release fibers into the digestive tract.
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