Asbestos in Crayons? Benzene in Markers? …. Oh My!

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Back to School Season is upon us!  Stores are now filled with a plethora of backpacks, school supplies, and clothing.  Parents of school-aged children everywhere are preparing their children for school in hope of them being safe while learning much throughout the year.  Students are enjoying the last few days of summer before they embark upon an exciting new school year.

Inside their backpacks, most students will no doubt have crayons and markers alongside other items to aid them in their scholarly journey.  Parents shopping for such items should be aware of a recent article written by Fox 46 Web Staff and posted on our website: “Study warns of asbestos found in crayons, back-to-school items.”  After reading this article and others discussing a study prepared by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, any parent would be quite concerned.  Most children love crayons, markers and the like.  More importantly, they rely on these materials to enhance their learning.  Crayons and markers are very important resources in the life of every child.

Indeed, it is quite concerning that toxic chemicals such as asbestos and benzene have been found in items regularly and frequently used by children.  It is well established that asbestos and benzene are harmful, toxic chemicals that cause severe injury to individuals. Asbestos is a known carcinogen.  An individual can be exposed to asbestos through air or water.  The American Cancer Society explains that “[w]hen asbestos fibers in the air are inhaled, they can stick to mucus in the throat, trachea (windpipe), or bronchi (large breathing tubes of the lungs….  [S]ome fibers reach the ends of the small airways in the lungs or penetrate into the outer lining of the lung and chest wall (known as the pleura). These fibers can irritate the cells in the lung or pleura[.]” Asbestos may also be found in water that flows through asbestos-containing pipes or other contaminated liquids.  Exposure to asbestos can cause diseases including but not limited to lung cancer, mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other nonmalignant lung and pleural disorders.

Benzene is also widely known as a carcinogen.  Experts have concluded that there is no safe threshold of exposure for benzene.  An individual may be exposed to benzene through inhalation or skin contact.  According to the American Cancer Society (“ACS”), benzene is a dangerous chemical with both short-term and long-term health effects.  The ACS website states that short-term exposure to benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, tremors, confusion, unconsciousness, vomiting, stomach irritation, dizziness, sleepiness, convulsions, rapid heart rate, and/or irritation of skin, eyes and throat.  Long-term exposure to benzene includes anemia, low white blood cell count, low blood platelet count, and increased incidence of leukemia.  

Although the level at which children are exposed to asbestos and benzene in school supplies such as crayons and markers is being debated, the potential presence of these harmful chemicals is nonetheless something that parents should be alerted to so that they can make informed decisions throughout the year.  Parents who are in the midst of shopping for school supplies are encouraged to consider the chemical composition of such materials before having their children use them.  A good resource to use in determining whether materials such as crayons and markers are safe is the Certified Product List maintained by the Art and Creative Materials Institute, Inc., along with its explanation of the ACMI Seals found on products and Safety Tips for using products with particular seals.  For those who may be interested in earth-friendly recommendations, reviewing those products listed by Green Matters or Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, in addition to other websites where “non-toxic” school supplies can be searched online, may also be helpful.  It is no doubt a challenge, but it is still possible to find materials that are safe for children to use.

Here’s to a safe and happy school year!

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