Asbestos fibers are strong, durable, and resist heat, acids, and friction. They are virtually indestructible. Because of these useful physical properties, asbestos fibers were often combined with other materials for use in thousands of industrial, maritime, automotive, scientific, and building products. The following list shows the wide range of materials that could contain asbestos:
Asbestos may also be found in elevator brake shoes, elevator equipment panels, ductwork, electrical panel partitions, electrical cloth, cooling towers, and chalkboards (Environmental Protection Agency Region 6 Guide).
Asbestos has been used in home appliances (coffee pots, toasters, irons, popcorn poppers, and crock pots) and in portable heaters, portable dishwashers, wood-burning stoves, and gas-fired decorative logs. Until 1980, asbestos was contained in most handheld hair dryers. These are but a small sampling of the thousands of products that contained asbestos.
Cheap and readily available, asbestos was originally used in many consumer products without regard to its potential hazard. According to the National Cancer Institute, up to 5,000 consumer products contained asbestos, including small appliances, hairdryers, and building materials. Many of these products are still in use, posing serious exposure risks when they are handled, repaired, or damaged.
Asbestos can also be an unwelcome contaminant. Most talc products such as baby powder may contain asbestos. Even your garden can be hazardous to your health if you frequently use soil conditioners and fertilizers that contain asbestos-contaminated vermiculite.
The serious health problems caused by asbestos make it imperative that we locate asbestos-containing consumer products and discontinue their use. This page discusses several of these products. The list of asbestos-containing products may surprise you; some are common everyday household items.
Asbestos has been used in older small appliances such as coffee pots, toasters, popcorn poppers, crock pots, and irons. A hazard to the home “do-it-yourselfer” and to the repairman, these older appliances may release asbestos fibers when they are disassembled. The consumer can also be exposed to asbestos through frayed wiring. Collectors who purchase old toasters and irons as antiques should be particularly careful when handling them.
Until 1980, asbestos was contained in most handheld hair dryers. These hair dryers are dangerous because they blow asbestos-contaminated air directly into the user’s breathing zone.
Manufacturers producing the hair dryers containing asbestos included major companies such as Clairol, Conair Corp.; General Electric Co.; Gillette Co.; Montgomery Ward; Norelco; J.C. Penney Co.; Hamilton-Beach; Korvettes, Inc.; Sears, Roebuck & Co.; Sunbeam; and Schick, Inc. (see list of models). One commercial hairdryer, the “Rocket Blower,” was used in beauty salons throughout the country until it was recalled in 1979.
Asbestos was used in ironing board covers, electric blankets, fireproof gloves, and burner pads-all items that benefit from the heat resistant qualities of the material. Asbestos was also a component of some portable heaters, portable dishwashers, wood-burning stoves, gas-fired decorative fireplace logs and crayons.
Talc is a naturally-occurring mineral primarily made up of magnesium, silicon, and oxygen. It has been mined in the United States since the late 1800’s for use in various products. In many cases, talc is reduced to a fine powder to be used in products such as:
Talcum powder is known to absorb moisture and eliminate friction. For these reasons, it has been used in different baby and body powders for generations. Today, it is not uncommon to see talc products in the bathrooms of homes throughout the United States.
Individuals with no known occupational exposures to asbestos are developing ovarian cancer and mesothelioma from asbestos in talc products that they and their family members have used. The most common example is Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder, Shower to Shower, and similar products such as Cashmere Bouquet. There have been numerous large verdicts against Johnson & Johnson and similar manufacturers for causing ovarian cancer and mesothelioma.
Talc – Ovarian Cancer
Since the 1980s, different studies have linked the use of talcum powder around the female genital area with ovarian cancer. The application of talc-containing feminine hygiene products can result in talc particles traveling through the vagina, into the uterus, and to the ovaries. These particles can take years to dissolve and can cause inflammation, which can eventually lead to fatal conditions and cancer. Women who use talcum powder around the vaginal area have a 20-30% increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Despite the studies, companies like Johnson & Johnson chose not to warn women of the potential harm talc use could cause within their bodies. Internal documents show that the company was aware of the possible risks of talcum powder use, but continued to strategically market the product to women across the country.
In addition to ovarian cancer in women, some studies have shown that talc miners have an increased risk of lung cancer and other respiratory conditions due to prolonged exposure to talc particles while on the job.
Talc – Mesothelioma
Additionally, many talc mines are contaminated with asbestos because the veins of talc and the veins of asbestos run adjacent to each other, resulting in the asbestos being removed right along with the talc. The contaminated talc is then used to manufacture supposed asbestos-free products such as cosmetics and body powders that actually contain asbestos and cause mesothelioma.
Because it provides aeration and drainage, vermiculite has been used in fertilizers, pesticides, potting mixes, and composts. However, this mica ore may contain asbestos. In a study of gardening products containing vermiculite, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found trace amounts of asbestos in 17 of 38 products tested (Sampling and Analysis of Consumer Garden Products that Contain Vermiculite, EPA, August 2000). Four of these products contained substantial amounts of asbestos: Schultz’s Horticultural Vermiculite, Earthgro’s Best Vermiculite, Hoffman’s Vermiculite, and Ace Horticultural Grade Vermiculite.
Although the EPA and the Consumer Product Safety Commission believe that the potential hazard to consumers is low, many consumer advocates disagree (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 23, 2000). They point out that garden products are not labeled for asbestos content, and that the EPA has found it necessary to issue instructions concerning vermiculite in garden products. The EPA recommendations include using premixed potting soils, which are moist and less likely to generate dust, and using alternatives to vermiculite such as peat, sawdust, perlite or bark. The agency also recommends that gardeners who do use straight vermiculite keep the material damp, use it in a well-ventilated area, and avoid getting vermiculite dust on their clothing.
In the United States, modern appliances, including newer toasters and irons, do not contain asbestos. This may not be the case in all countries. That travel bargain that you purchased could pose an asbestos exposure hazard.
Many South American countries (excluding Chile, Argentina, and some parts of Brazil) do not ban asbestos or severely regulate the sale of asbestos-containing products. Asbestos sale and import is banned in the following countries: Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Poland, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Italy, Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
Exposure to asbestos products can put you and your loved ones at risk of serious diseases such as asbestos, mesothelioma, and lung cancer. If you have developed one of these illnesses or other adverse effects after asbestos exposure, get in touch with a lawyer as soon as possible to go over your legal options. You could be entitled to financial compensation for your losses.