Our dear friends, the Environmental Working Group (EWG), perhaps the most scientifically flawed organization out there (and this is no small accomplishment) have decided to take on the (all of a sudden) life and death issue of children drawing with crayons.
Hope you were sitting down when you heard about this.
This non-issue arises from a report, entitled “EWG Tests Find Asbestos in Kids’ crayons, Crime Scene Kits— Even trace exposures to lethal asbestos fibers can cause cancer, other diseases.”
The study was commissioned by the EWG Action Fund, a branch of the parent organization. As expected, it is full of the usual assortment of provocative headlines, intentionally misleading distortions, half-truths, and the deliberate attempts to alarm people by completely ignoring the concept of dose or exposure. This tactic is used over and over again, yet it remains very effective. It is easy to imply some negative consequences of just about any given chemical, since virtually everything will be harmful at a high enough exposure level.
The disingenuous and intentional tactics of groups like EWG and the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) typically depend upon the omission of one of the most important fundamentals of toxicology—exposure, which is a function of dose over time. Instead, EWG cleverly crafts its language to not only avoid the concept of dose, but, even to subtly suggest that it doesn’t matter. They would have you believe that a miniscule exposure to a chemical has anything whatsoever to do with any risk in real life.
This kind of trickery is the cornerstone of the “chemophobia” movement, which is disturbingly effective, largely because of the lack of even a basic science education of most people in this country.
EWG: “The toys, purchased at national retail chains or through online retailers, were tested by two government-certified laboratories, using state-of-the-art equipment.”
Reality: While this sounds impressive, it is actually a red herring. State-of-the-art equipment is just that. Analytical instruments are now so incredibly sensitive that vanishingly small quantities of countless chemicals can now be detected. These chemicals have been around forever, but it is now possible to detect and measure them. Once something is detected, in the absence of a discussion of the amount makes it rather easy to scare people who believe that the dose is irrelevant.
EWG: “The results are significant because even trace exposure to asbestos can cause cancer and other fatal lung disease.”
Reality: How about some data to back up this statement? There is none.
EWG: “The tests found asbestos in four of the 28 boxes of crayons tested.”
Reality: How much? They do not even mention this.
EWG: “The Consumer Product Safety Commission conducted its ownconfirmation tests on crayons and concluded that the risk of exposure was“extremely low” but that “as a precaution, crayons should not contain these[asbestos] fibers.”
Reality: Correct. No crayon should contain asbestos fibers. Or a million other things. But some of them do. And even the CPSC admits that this is a non-problem. Too bad EWG isn’t honest enough to do the same.
EWG: “Contaminated crayons could release microscopic asbestos fibers as children use them.”
Reality: Could?? Now there’s a convincing argument. The crayon could also launch itself into orbit around Neptune. Just about as likely.
EWG: “Asbestos fibers lodged in the lungs or other organs can cause grave, often fatal, illnesses whose symptoms are not evident for decades after exposure.”
Reality: Everyone, even the EWG, knows that asbestos fibers get lodged in the lungs of people who a regularly are exposed to it, and that this is almost entirely occupational. Classic scare tactic here.
EWG: “If children are exposed when young, there is more time for asbestos-related illness to develop later in life.”
Reality: This is too stupid to believe. If a child uses crayons early in life and then grows up to start an asbestos removal business can anyone in his right (or wrong) mind think that the crayons are going to have any impact whatsoever? EWG should be ashamed of itself.
EWG: "Inhalation of asbestos fibers can cause mesothelioma, an incurable malignancy that attacks the lining of the lungs or other organs; asbestos is, which makes breathing excruciatingly painful and can lead to death from heart failure; and cancer of the lungs and other organs.”
Reality: True, terrifying and completely irrelevant. And let’s not leave out manipulative and dishonest as well. EWG is trying to convince you that this could happen from crayons. No—this is what happens to people who have been exposed to significant levels of asbestos and become ill, and die.
EWG: “The tests EWG Action Fund commissioned show that neither voluntary action by companies nor the commission’s pledge to monitor crayons, have ensured that children’s products are free of asbestos.”
Reality: This is a splendid opportunity to make a lot of noise and to force a company to do something which will have no consequences one way or another. But it sure makes for good PR when the EWG leaders stand in front of the cameras with the CEOs of the companies that they have strong armed, showing once again how they saved us all from yet another poison.
EWG: “[T]herisk a child would be exposed to the fibers through inhalation of ingestion ofcrayons containing asbestos and transitional fibers is extremely low. No fibers were found in the air during a simulation of a child rigorously coloring with a crayon for half an hour. The risk of exposure by eating crayons is also extremely low because the fibers are embedded in the crayon wax and will pass through the child’s body.” (CPSC)
Reality: If they put this any lower on the page it would fall off your screen. This quote alone is sufficient to invalidate the rest of the article is irrelevant, that is, unless you are the EWG looking fora new source of funding.
EWG: “CPSC will continue to monitor children’s crayons to ensure they do not present ahazard.”
Reality: Yes,they will continue to monitor a non-problem. Good for them.
Saving the best for last:
EWG: “Most of the estimated 12,000 to 15,000 Americans who die each year of asbestos-related disease (EWG Action Fund 2015) are adults exposed on the job,but a minority of cases involve people exposed as children, usually by contact with an adult family member who inadvertently brought asbestos fibers home on clothing. No cases have been documented of victims who became ill from playing with asbestos-tainted crayons or toys [.]”
Reality: This is the entire essence of the article. And, it just happens to be something you already knew. Some people who have worked with asbestos got mesothelioma—about as bad a cancer as is possible. Rarely, their children were exposed, but, when so, it was from asbestos that was inadvertently brought home—not from a crayon.
In other words, nothing has changed, except EWG getting itself into the news for a new reason.
Color us skeptical.
Top image: Crayola
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