Consumer Products

Repair of Old Home Appliances Could Result in Asbestos Exposure

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, hair dryers, 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. 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-contaminatedvermiculite.

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 in Small Appliances

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.

Hair Dryers

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 hair dryer, the "Rocket Blower," was used in beauty salons throughout the country until it was recalled in 1979.

Other Household Products

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. For a detailed description of asbestos use in home construction and building materials, including attic insulation, see Does My Home Contain Asbestos?.

Talc May Contain Asbestos

Talc often contains asbestos. Baby powder, cosmetics, and feminine hygiene products that contain talc usually also contain asbestos.

Based on epidemiological evidence, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies talc contaminated with asbestos as carcinogenic. Using asbestos-containing talcum powder on genital areas, either as a dusting powder or in the form of a feminine hygiene product, may be associated with ovarian cancer. Although the evidence is not complete about whether talc-containing cosmetics or baby powder can cause cancer, it is best to avoid these products.

Asbestos in Vermiculite Garden Products

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.

A Final Word of Caution

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.