Asbestos in Claire’s Products? Recent Scare Underscores Asbestos Danger
Claire’s, an American retailer that sells a variety of products aimed at girls and young women, has recently come under fire after a Rhode Island mom alleged that their products contained asbestos. Concerned about her daughter’s glitter makeup kit from Claire’s, Kristi Warner sent the product to a lab that revealed the existence of tremolite asbestos in the talc. Of course, asbestos has been well-documented as the primary cause of mesothelioma (an often fatal cancer that develops in the lining of the lungs or the lining of the peritoneal cavity) and a cause of other illnesses like lung cancer.
What this story underscores, however, is a hard truth: asbestos is still technically legal in the United States. While the country does not produce, mine for, or export asbestos anymore, it is still allowed to import products that contain the carcinogenic material. But, what are the specific laws surrounding asbestos use in the United States?
U.S. Laws on Asbestos
Asbestos has been recognized as an extremely toxic material since at least the 1970s. The Clean Air Act of 1973 outlawed the use of sprayed-on asbestos along with any pre-molded pipe covering or block insulation that contained the fibrous material. Four years later, the Consumer Product Safety Act banned products like wall-patching mixes and fake fireplace embers that contained asbestos.
In 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) instituted a new rule that would effectively ban all asbestos-related products in the United States. The rule was administered under Section 6 of the Toxic Substances Control Act (which was signed into law in 1976) and was seen as vital to consumer safety and protection in the United States. Despite this, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the regulation in 1991 after a misleading lobbying campaign by the asbestos industry.
Since 1991, there have been numerous attempts to bring back the EPA’s asbestos ban, but all have fallen on deaf ears. As it stands, many products that contain asbestos are still legal in the United States, including:
- Certain types of clothing
- Automotive parts (brake pads, drum brake linings, gaskets, clutch facings, transmission parts, etc.)
- Cement sheets (both corrugated and flat), shingles, and pipes
- Roofing felt and roof coatings
- Floor tiles made from vinyl
Given the right (or, in this case, wrong) circumstances, asbestos can be inhaled or ingested from any one of these products, putting anyone who works closely with these materials at risk.
Asbestos Use and Legal Action in Recent Years
As recently as 2016, the U.S. imported as much as 340 million metric tons of products containing asbestos. Most of that asbestos is found in chrysotile fibrils that are used by chemical companies. But the material is also used in the production of soap, alkaline batteries, fertilizer, and car parts. In fact, if you enjoy changing your own brakes and you have an imported car from a brand like Alfa Romeo or Porsche, then you may be dealing directly with asbestos friction materials. Aftermarket brake linings also often contain the substance.
So, what is being done to mitigate the prevalence of asbestos in consumer products in the United States? In 2016, the EPA listed asbestos among ten of the highest-risk substances currently being used in imported products in the country. The Lautenberg Act, a newer regulatory law that expands the power of the original Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976, allowed the EPA to prioritize a complete ban on asbestos products in the United States.
Despite this, the 2017 appointment of Scott Pruitt to the head of the EPA has cast doubt on the agency’s ability to effectively ban the material. Pruitt has kowtowed to the asbestos industry lobbyists in the past and shows no signs of changing his policy any time soon.
So, what does all this mean for Claire’s and its potential use of asbestos in its products? To its credit, the company sent the children’s glitter makeup to an independent lab, and that study showed no signs of asbestos. Even so, this should come as a poignant reminder of the continued legality of asbestos products in the United States.
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