On August 7, the consumer advocacy nonprofit, U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG), released its annual report on school-supply safety, “Safer School Supplies: Shopping Guide.” Details from the report show that Playskool brand crayons sold at a Chicago Dollar Tree store tested positive for asbestos. When disturbed and released into the air, asbestos can cause lung cancer and mesothelioma, for which there is no cure.
Needless to say, this lethal carcinogen should never be found in children’s crayons.
The 30-year-old nonprofit watchdog group, founded by public-health activist Ralph Nader, has a simple research method: they spend months acquiring and rigorously testing popular school supplies for any possible risks and dangers, including risk for exposure to toxic chemicals. On detecting asbestos in crayons, U.S. PIRG states:
“We tested 6 types of crayons for asbestos and one tested positive for tremolite [asbestos]: Playskool crayons (36 count) that we purchased at Dollar Tree. We tested the green color crayon. We tested two samples of the same crayon product to confirm our results.”
In an interview with ABC News, U.S. PIRG education fund toxins director Kara Cook-Schultz said, “It’s completely unnecessary for crayons to contain asbestos. We know how to produce crayons without asbestos and most crayons are free of asbestos.”
Hasbro, Dollar Tree, Amazon Now under the Lens
In its report, U.S. PIRG calls on the retailers selling these crayons, including Dollar Tree, Amazon, and eBay, to remove the product from their inventory immediately; but as of now, the crayons remain available for purchase both at Dollar Tree and on Amazon.com alongside the description “Non-Toxic Crayons.”
Dollar Tree has yet comment on whether or not it will follow the advocacy group’s recommendation and recall these items, but the company told both ABC News and Business Insider that the crayons in question “passed all legal and safety requirements.” Dollar Tree also released a public statement:
“The safety of our customers and associates is our top priority. Our Company utilizes a very stringent and independent testing program to ensure our supplier products meet or exceed all safety and legal standards. We are aware of the report and have since re-verified that each of the listed products successfully passed inspection and testing.”
While Dollar Tree holds firm in their claim that the Playskool crayons they sell are safe, along with everything else within their store walls, the public has seen asbestos in crayons before. In 2000, asbestos fibers were discovered in Crayola and Rose Art crayons, which led to regulatory action taken by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). More recently, in 2015, asbestos was detected in Dora the Explorer™ coloring kits and Disney® crayons, among other sets.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Hasbro, Playskool’s parent company, said it is now conducting a “thorough investigation” into the claims. The manufacturer of the crayons, Massachusetts-based Leap Year Publishing, also acknowledged PIRG’s report, confirming that it too will re-examine its laboratory testing results for the products in question.
U.S. PIRG tested 5 other popular brands of crayons, including Crayola, Target's Up & Up, Cra-Z-Art, Disney Junior Mickey and the Roadster Racers, and Roseart, all of which were found to be free of asbestos contamination
"If parents want to keep their children from using crayons that contain asbestos,” Cook-Schultz said, “we recommend that they do not use the 36-count Playskool crayons sold by Dollar Tree."
In spite of the various companies’ claims that consumer safety is always their “top priority,” it remains to be seen whether or not there will be any actions taken by Dollar Tree and other retailers to remove these potentially dangerous products from store shelves.
In the meantime, consumers should not be quick to dismiss U.S. PIRG’s findings. Their annual school-supply safety report has been responsible for the recall of more than 150 products being sold in the U.S.
As for what comes next, Cook-Shultz said, "We have informed the CPSC about our recent Playskool results and asked the CPSC to do their own investigation. We have asked Playskool to do a voluntary recall and to reformulate their crayons, as other manufacturers have done in the past."