Asbestos Exposure in Schools

- and from toys

Here is a guest article on the dangers of asbestos exposure in the USA from school buildings and even occasionally from toys.

While this article is aimed mainly at a US readership, people from elsewhere in the world may also find some facts of interest as asbestos was widely used in buildings almost everywhere in the mid twentieth century.

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Asbestos exposure in schools and from toys is best avoided through awareness

Responsible for health conditions such as asbestosis and mesothelioma, asbestos is a highly toxic, naturally occurring mineral that was included in a wide range of products. Exposure to asbestos is generally associated with industrial job sites or locations where the naturally-occurring mineral was mined or processed.

However, concerns have been voiced about the toxic mineral’s presence in toys and schools; it is suspected that children have been placed at risk of asbestos exposure and to the development of resulting complications.

One such controversy over potential asbestos exposure was sparked by a CSI Fingerprint Identification Kit tested on behalf of the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization (ADAO). Based on the popular television series “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” this hands-on toy instructed children to sprinkle an included powder on fingerprint-covered surfaces and then gently blow the powder away.

toys containing asbestos as found by ADAO

The ADAO expressed concerns that laboratory tests revealed as much as 5 percent asbestos in the powder. Worried about pleural mesothelioma and other serious health repercussions that can develop after the inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers, Planet Toys, the kit’s manufacturing company, issued a “stop sale” on the item.

The outburst in reaction to these fingerprinting kits is reminiscent of concerns that arose in the 1980s regarding “non-toxic” modeling clay that actually contained 50 percent chrysotile asbestos. Fibro-Clay,an asbestos-laden modeling compound manufactured by the Milton Bradley Company, was used by children across the nation (US), but was prominently identified in large quantities in Wayne, New Jersey elementary schools.

Product recall

The product was voluntarily recalled in 1983, yet students and staff at many schools had already been exposed to the fibers.

Unlike shipyards, factories and asbestos mines, schools may not be a site that comes to mind when considering asbestos risks. Many schools, however, were built during an expansive building boom in the 1950s and ’60s. Coincidentally, those were the years that the use of asbestos in construction materials was at its peak. The mineral was found in products ranging from chalkboard backing to ceiling tiles, walls, boiler room machinery and even insulation for pipes that ran underneath the classrooms.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) projected that the removal of all sources of asbestos in these schools would be financially impossible. Instead, to curb the staff and students’ risk of inhaling the mineral and developing mesothelioma, asbestosis or other related diseases, the EPA crafted the Asbestos Hazards Emergency Response Act (AHERA).

AHERA requires all schools to undergo regular governmental inspections as well as to provide asbestos detection training for their maintenance staff. Each school must provide a report of their asbestos management plan and make this information available to parents and the general public for review upon request.

A safer environment?

Abatement and removal programs have generally ensured a safe environment for children, yet the consequences of past exposure are now beginning to surface.

Pleural mesothelioma and asbestosis are two diseases that are linked almost exclusively to asbestos exposure, while other cancers and health risks such as lung cancer are also linked to the mineral.

Because the symptoms of mesothelioma generally take 20 to 50 years to emerge, many faculty members and students who worked in or attended schools before asbestos use was regulated are just now noticing health issues.

Unfortunately, approximately 2,000 to 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are reported each year in the United States alone. This illness is highly resistant to treatment, and the average mesothelioma survival rate is approximately four to 18 months after diagnosis. While approximately 10 percent will live for at least five years after being diagnosed, there is currently no cure for the cancer.

In an attempt to minimize future development of the disease, the EPA has placed stringent restrictions on asbestos in products. Additionally, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is dedicated to providing information about potential merchandise threats.

Parents concerned about their children encountering asbestos in toys can look for an “AP” label on the outer packaging. This label, awarded by the Art and Creative Materials Institute, signifies that the toy is free from hazardous ingredients. A separate label can confirm that the product “conforms to ASTMD-4236,” referring to the manufacturer’s voluntarily compliance with safety standards outlined by the American Society of Toy Manufacturers.

Although the potential for hazardous asbestos exposure in schools and in modern toys is slim, staying informed about all risks – both past and present – can increase a person’s level of protection from resulting health complications.

Information sources

Here are some of the information sources for this article on asbestos exposure and schools.

Asbestos Medical and Legal Aspects – Fifth Edition


Further information

The inquiry concerning asbestos in children's toys was made between 2007 and 2009. I understand that the issue is still relevant today, although the products concerned are now withdrawn from sale. You can see the full report on the Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization website: ADAO


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