Media Watch: Cancer-causing crayons receive colorful coverage

As if parents don’t have enough to worry about, studies released the last week of May by ABC News and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced findings of a study suggesting that crayons contain low levels of cancer-causing asbestos. Binney & Smith, maker of Crayola crayons, responded quickly to the allegations, releasing its own study maintaining that its crayons do not contain asbestos and are safe for children to use. Interviews with parents and school officials showed the public to be split in its reaction, with some schools immediately pulling crayons out of children’s hands and others choosing to wait until more is known before making a decision.

As if parents don’t have enough to worry about, studies released the last week of May by ABC News and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer announced findings of a study suggesting that crayons contain low levels of cancer-causing asbestos. Binney & Smith, maker of Crayola crayons, responded quickly to the allegations, releasing its own study maintaining that its crayons do not contain asbestos and are safe for children to use. Interviews with parents and school officials showed the public to be split in its reaction, with some schools immediately pulling crayons out of children’s hands and others choosing to wait until more is known before making a decision.

As if parents don’t have enough to worry about, studies released

the last week of May by ABC News and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer

announced findings of a study suggesting that crayons contain low levels

of cancer-causing asbestos. Binney & Smith, maker of Crayola crayons,

responded quickly to the allegations, releasing its own study

maintaining that its crayons do not contain asbestos and are safe for

children to use. Interviews with parents and school officials showed the

public to be split in its reaction, with some schools immediately

pulling crayons out of children’s hands and others choosing to wait

until more is known before making a decision.



According to research by CARMA International, the media cautioned that

test results at this time are mixed. Reports presented both sides of the

issue and often noted representatives from the US Consumer Product

Safety Commission, which is performing tests of its own to determine

results.



’We’ll let the science decide what action to take,’ said spokesman Russ

Rader. ’We don’t want parents to panic, because the facts are not in’

(The Plain Dealer, May 25).



Journalists highlighted that even if asbestos is found, it probably does

not pose a health hazard. The wax in crayons keeps the fibers from going

airborne, and the levels of asbestos found are low enough not to cause a

problem, reports said. ’Even if the (commission) finds some traces of

asbestos in crayons, it will turn out to be an incredibly small amount,’

said Cathy Islas of Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin (The Milwaukee

Journal-Sentinel, May 25). Binney & Smith’s response was quick and

emphatic: ’We make sure and we require ... that the talc that comes into

Crayola is asbestos free,’ said spokesperson Tracy Moran (ABC News, May

26).



The majority of reports showed consumers preferring to err on the side

of caution. Reports of schools pulling crayons from their shelves were

common. ’We’re playing it safe,’ said Palm Beach county district

representative Chris Skerlec to The Sun-Sentinel (May 26).



Critics of this course of action stated that they are going to wait

until the facts are in before concluding that crayons cause cancer. A

spokesperson from a day care center in Texas said: ’I told my teachers

to watch more carefully and not to let kids put crayons in their mouths.

But that’s it. If we had to be scared of everything they tell us to be

scared of, we couldn’t go on living’ (The Dallas Morning News, May

30).



Some consultants proposed that results of the Seattle study might be

mistaken. Dr. Richard Lee, an EPA consultant and expert in asbestos

detection, said, ’It is common for laboratories to misidentify talc

fibers (as asbestos)’ (The Advocate (LA), May 30). However, supporters

of the Seattle study reiterated that the fibers found in the crayons

were identical to the type that causes cancer.



The media applauded Binney & Smith for its openness regarding the

findings and called the crisis ’one of the company’s biggest public

relations challenges ever’ (The Morning Call (PA), May 25).



While the jury is still out on whether or not asbestos is present in

crayons, most media reports discounted the possibility of a major public

health scare.





- Evaluation and analysis by CARMA. Media Watch can be found at

www.carma.com.



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