Asbestos-Laden Art Supplies

Parents in Connecticut were understandably upset when they received notice in the mail from their children’s’ school that clay being used in their art classes contained asbestos.
The warning letters were issued by school district superintendent Marion Martinez, and stated that the talc used in the clay’s manufacture, Nytal 100, contained small amounts of asbestos (a common contaminant). According to Martinez, the letter was intended to be informative, and simply advise parents that students should be cautious when using the clay. Two parents who submitted a letter to the editor of the Hartford Courant were not convinced. Kerry Swift and Kathy Rossland pointed out quite accurately that there is no such thing as a “safe level of asbestos.” Connecticut State Department of Public Health epidemiologist Brian Toal attempted to placate the parents by pointing out that “the amount of talc in classroom clay is so small there is negligible risk.” However, Swift and Rossland were quick to point out that the amount of talc in the clay “created asbestos levels almost three times the Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act clearance level in the ambient air of Brookfield‘s Whisconier Middle School art room in 2003.”

They added that they had both written to the Connecticut State health department for four years before any action was taken. The two concerned mothers wrote: “OSHA’s workplace allowable level for airborne asbestos still carries ‘significant risk’ for cancer.” They then went on to point out that a New Jersey court last year determined that the talc mine that supplied Nytal 100 was liable for the mesothelioma death of a pottery artist. Ms. Swift and Ms. Rossland wrote: “Mr. Toal continues Connecticut‘s pattern of pretending schools are safe. Even with air and dust testing data showing asbestos releases, public officials would rather soothe the valid concerns of parents and staff with false assurances than do what is right and protect our children.” In the meantime, health officials in East Hartford, Connecticut have instructed art teachers to stop using the clay containing Nytal 100. At the same time, Karen O’Connell, president of the local teacher’s union, has advised all art teachers to get chest X-rays. It was not said how long the Nytal 100-containing clay had been in use; symptoms of asbestos disease typically take decades to appear.