Asbestos in Clay

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Most people know the dangers that asbestos poses to human health. But people usually associate asbestos risks with construction materials, everything from roofing and siding to insulation and fire curtains has contained the carcinogen in the past. Some products that use asbestos aren’t nearly as obvious; for example, some clay has been – and continues to be – made from asbestos.

The obvious associations with construction supplies might lead one to assume that asbestos has been primarily used in industrial-grade clay, but regular art clay – including what’s been marketed to children – has been found to contain the fibrous material. Asbestos products were banned in the 1970s and most of the clay was removed from the market, but its presence didn’t disappear entirely. In the 1980s, clay distributed by Milton Bradley was recalled because it was found to obtain asbestos. The product was in direct contact with children, regularly used in classrooms for paper-maché projects.

Unfortunately, Milton Bradley’s highly publicized recall failed to bring an end to the use of asbestos in clay products. In 2007, a toy called the CSI Fingerprint Examination Kit, which is made up of many parts, was recalled because its fingerprinting powder was found to contain asbestos. Despite widespread public knowledge of the dangers of asbestos, some companies continue to blatantly ignore these dangers and the law. One would assume that people would be especially mindful of products that are made for children, but asbestos continues to appear in the toy market decades after the ban was put into effect.

Products that contain asbestos are dangerous because when broken down or damaged, they emit fibers into the air. These fibers can become trapped in the lungs, and as these fibers build up with increased exposure, many illnesses can develop. Asbestosis is a condition that causes inflammation of the lungs and scarring. Several different cancers, including lung, stomach and colorectal, have been linked to asbestos exposure. One type of cancer, mesothelioma, is exclusive to asbestos exposure. A cancer of the abdominal and chest lining, many who suffer from mesothelioma are given a poor prognosis because it is usually diagnosed at a late stage. Most diseases associated with asbestos exposure do not present any symptoms for several years.

Consumers, and parents in particular should be doubly aware of the contents of any product that they purchase. If asbestos can be lurking in seemingly harmless products like clay, there’s a good chance that it could be in other products as well.