12 August 2019 | Comment | Article by Richard Green

Lesser known uses of asbestos

Asbestos was used to manufacture a variety of different products, many of which are well known: asbestos sheets, asbestos lagging, brake shoes and gaskets. However, there were thousands of products made from asbestos, some of which might surprise you.

Vinyl Floor Tiles

During the 1950s vinyl manufacturers such as American Biltrite and Marley, often mixed asbestos into their products namely vinyl wallpaper, vinyl floor tiles and vinyl sheet flooring. At the time, it seemed like the perfect material to use because it was naturally fireproof and strong. Also, most asbestos tiles had a glossy surface making them easy to clean and maintain.

Unfortunately, vinyl sheet flooring manufactured with an asbestos backing and vinyl tiles pose a serious exposure risk when being removed, especially when removal is likely to cause significant break up and deterioration of the material.

If you have concerns about whether old vinyl flooring or wallpaper contains asbestos, please seek professional advice before removing it yourself.

Cigarette Filters

Cigarette filters between the years of 1952 and 1956 were made by compressing blue asbestos fibres within crepe paper. Lorillard Tobacco advertised its ‘Kent’ cigarettes containing micronite asbestos filters as the ‘greatest health protection in history’. Each filter was about 30 percent asbestos, containing 10mg of crocidolite fibers. Today the brand is remembered for being one of the most dangerous types of cigarette ever manufactured.

Cosmetics

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a safety alert on 12 March 2019 warning consumers not to use certain cosmetic products that tested positive for asbestos. There were three Claire’s products that tested positive for tremolite asbestos during FDA testing:  Claire’s Eye Shadows (batch/lot No: 08/17), Claire’s Compact Powder (batch/lot No: 07/15), and Claire’s Contour Palette (batch/lot No: 04/17). Claire’s has insisted that its products are safe but removed the three products from its stores. Any asbestos present in these products will largely be related to the presence of talc. Talc is used in many cosmetic products like foundations and lipstick to absorb moisture.

Talcum Powder

A report released in December 2018 alleged that Johnson & Johnson knew that the talc in its raw and finished powders sometimes tested positive for small amounts of asbestos from at least 1971 into the early 2000s. The earliest mentions of tainted J&J talc came from a report dated 1957 produced by a consulting lab. Talc is mined in places where asbestos is co-occurring, and some talc companies are not taking adequate steps to refine the talc to remove the asbestos.

J&J currently face more than 13,000 US lawsuits claiming its baby powder line caused mesothelioma and ovarian cancer. It has more than two dozen trials scheduled around the U.S. this year.

There are also a number of talc manufacturers who face similar allegations. Hugh James are currently instructed by a number of UK claimants to pursue various other talc manufacturers.

Fake Snow

Some of you may be surprised to find out that asbestos even “fell” from the sky. Fake snow used to be manufactured from chrysotile asbestos. The white fibres were the perfect way of creating snowy scenes in films with the added bonus of it being fire-resistant.

The very dangerous substance was also used in Christmas decorations to give that fluffy white appearance whilst reducing the risk of any candles setting the family Christmas tree alight.

Crayons

Products often contained asbestos in the 19th century because people didn’t know any better. However, in 2018 asbestos was found in some Playskool crayons. Playskool stands by the safety of its products and is conducting a thorough investigation into the claims and plans to re-verify that the crayons are asbestos-free, as well as requesting a review of the testing methods used.

Fortunately, the risk of inhaling asbestos fibres whilst colouring is low and, although it is known that children are prone to eating crayons, the exposure levels from consuming asbestos fibres should be lower than from inhaling the fibres. 

The products set out above are just a few of the many products that once contained asbestos. Asbestos was a hugely popular product because it was cheap, durable and a known fireproofing agent. If breathed in, asbestos fibres can scratch and irritate the lungs, causing scarring and inflammation and an asbestos-related disease may develop. Whilst the risk of a serious asbestos-related disease developing is statistically low, people should be cautious when coming into contact with asbestos.

If you have any questions about asbestos exposure or a related medical condition, please visit our asbestos claims page for further information.

Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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