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 today, were not considered serious enough to warrant a recall, commission 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.
Commission Chairwoman Ann Brown said in an interview Monday that 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 they have already purchased.
The CPSC crayon probe came after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer 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. Vanderbilt officials did not return calls Monday.
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. Citing studies linking these fibers to cancer in rats and humans, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences has asked that these fibers be included in the government's next annual listing of known carcinogens.
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 asbestos-like fibers into the digestive tract, they said.
Brown praised the nation's top three crayon makers for agreeing to seek a substitute for talc.
The dominant manufacturer, Binney & Smith, which makes Crayola crayons, said it is committed to have a newly formulated crayon within a year. "Our crayons are safe," said Mark Schwab, president of Binney & Smith, Monday in an interview. But he added that the CPSC tests "could lead to potential concern on the part of some parents" and said, "I want to make sure parents can trust the same product they've trusted for over 100 years."
Rose Art, the nation's second-largest crayon maker, said it stopped using talc 15 months ago. Richard Joyce, president of Dixon Ticonderoga, which makes Prang crayons, said his company will reformulate "so there will be no confusion concerning the safety of our product components."