If you know anything about asbestos, you likely know that it’s a carcinogen and that manufacturers have used it for decades in all sorts of products. But do you know which products might still contain asbestos?
Thankfully, there are very few new products that use it. Most uses are banned, so you won’t find Hollywood studios using asbestos in fake snow as they did for The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life and other old films. However, some manufacturers can still use the mineral. Meanwhile, thousands of older products may still contain asbestos.
As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes on its website, it has proposed banning all manufacture, processing and distribution of the only form of asbestos that remains available for commercial use. However, chemical companies have historically lobbied hard against such bans.
For now, this form, chrysotile asbestos, remains available for limited uses, including:
- The diaphragms used to process chlorine
- Aftermarket automotive brakes and linings
- Sheet gaskets and other gaskets
- Other brakes and vehicle friction products
These uses are primarily industrial, but they endanger the people who produce these products. The EPA’s latest risk evaluation found that everyone who worked with the material faced “unreasonable” risk. And they’re not the only people these products endanger. They also endanger auto mechanics and other professionals who might work with the materials later in their life cycles.
The problem with asbestos isn’t just that some manufacturers still use it. In fact, those current uses affect fewer people than our long legacy of asbestos-laden products.
Products made with asbestos are generally safe until they wear down, and the asbestos becomes “friable” or “easily crumbled.” At this point, the asbestos fibers can break loose into the air. You can breathe them in or absorb them through your skin. You can even collect the fibers on your clothes and come into contact with them later. There is no amount of asbestos exposure that we know to be safe, but we do know that the more you suffer exposure, the greater your risk.
So, what did manufacturers previously make with asbestos? The list is long and sometimes surprising. According to some sources, there are more than 3,000 products known to contain asbestos. These include:
- Pipe insulation
- Roofing shingles
- Floor tiles
- Fireproofing spray
- Brake shoes
- Spray insulation
- Hair dryers
- Coffee makers
- Fake fireplace logs
- Electric blankets
Of course, the list goes on. Manufacturers long thought of asbestos as a “miracle fiber” because it was strong, malleable and heat- and fire-resistant. As a result, it features prominently in many older materials that needed insulation against fire or heating coils. Asbestos use hit its peak in the 1970s and started to decline after that. By the 1990s, few products still made use of asbestos.
Notably, there is one other category of products that may contain asbestos. Talc is a mineral often found near asbestos, and products that contain talc may sometimes contain traces of the carcinogen. Tests have found traces of asbestos in all forms of talc products, including baby powders, crayons, makeup and toy detective kits.
What to look for
There isn’t as much asbestos out in circulation as there once was, but you still want to be safe. The first thing to do is to check the labels of any products that could possibly contain the mineral. After that, you can work with professionals to test samples of older products. This is often the wisest thing to do when you live in an old building with materials that start to break down.
We may have come a long way from the time when Hollywood producers sprinkled asbestos throughout the air, but we still have a long way to go. We have not yet banned all uses of the carcinogen, and we need to be mindful of the products that still contain it. After all, asbestos exposure isn’t the stuff of winter wonderlands. It’s often the source of future illness.