The best-selling children’s crayons in Britain are at the center of a health alert after claims that they contain traces of asbestos.
Tests on the Crayola product, used in millions of homes, are understood to have found small amounts of the cancer-causing chemical. The makers deny they pose a health risk to children.
Health officials in Denmark have insisted that the British-made crayons be withdrawn from sale there and the Norwegian pollution control agency indicated that it had asked the importer of the crayons to suspend sales.
The crayons were produced in the Bedford factory of U.S. manufacturer Binney & Smith, which has agreed to change the formula used in U.S. and British factories in order to remove even a theoretical problem.
The asbestos traces appear to have come from contaminated talcum powder, from one mine in North America, which is used as a bulking agent to keep the crayon hard and stable.
Talc has many similar characteristics to asbestos and some British doctors have drawn tentative links to conditions, including ovarian cancer.
Details of a potential problem first emerged in the U.S. in May when a newspaper in Seattle, Washington, found asbestos traces in crayons made by Binney & Smith in the U.S. and two other manufacturers.
Change the formula
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission subsequently confirmed the presence of asbestos in its own tests. It concluded there were no risks to consumers but asked the companies to change the formula.
The CPSC’s assistant executive director of hazards identification, Ronald Medford, said: ‘We cannot order crayons containing these fibers off the market because we haven’t documented a danger to children.
‘But these fibers should not be in products used by kids so we have asked the manufacturers to voluntarily reformulate their crayons using substitute ingredients.’
Britain’s response has been left to trading standards officers at Bedfordshire County Council. They have not carried out any tests on the British-produced crayons or issued any press releases to inform the public of the investigation.
Trading standards officer Simon Sumner said he relied on the company and the CPSC to convince him there was no risk to the public.
A Binney & Smith spokesman confirmed that the UK crayons were made from the same tainted talc implicated in the asbestos contamination in the U.S.
She also said that Danish tests, which found traces of asbestos, involved crayons made in Britain. But the company had never found asbestos in any of its own experiments.
‘The CPSC did find asbestos traces in two crayons, but they said it was scientifically insignificant,’ she said. ‘They clearly said that parents, teachers and kids should not be concerned and that they could continue to use Crayola crayons. They did not see it as a safety issue and neither do we.’
She said the Bedford factory has started producing talc-free crayons, but supplies now in the shops for Christmas will have been made to the old formula.