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Caveman Crayons

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Jessie Haas

Crayons are one of humankind’s oldest drawing media, invented right after the finger tracing a line in the dust. Archaeologists believe the oldest known piece of human art is a series of cross-hatches drawn across a shard of rock with an ochre crayon. Natural, wholesome, and suitable for kids, right?

Not necessarily. In September, the United States Public Interest Research Group (US-PIRG) released a report on some popular school supplies, which found trace amounts of tremolite, a form of asbestos, in some Playskool crayons sold at Dollar Tree.

The crayons in question are the green crayons in a set of 36, manufactured for Playskool by Leap Year Publishing. John Sorenson, spokesman for Leap Year, says the company complies with and is tested under Children’s Product Safety Certification standards. He says Leap Year is “currently re-verifying” that the crayons are safe and asbestos-free, and has requested a review of US-PIRG’s methods. (US-PIRG has conducted safety surveys of toys for three decades.)

Bizarrely, asbestos is legal in crayons, but as US-PIRG notes, “scientists and government agencies point out that it is unnecessary to expose children to asbestos.” (Ya think?)

The Safer School Supplies Shopping Guide points out that other brands of crayons, including Crayola, Up and Up, Cra-2-Art, Disney Junior Mickey and the Roadster Racers, and Rose Art crayons are asbestos free. Playskool does sell crayon sets with an “AP” label from the Arts and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) which do not contain asbestos.

US-PIRG recommends looking for the AP label on children’s art products to be sure they are nontoxic. If that is absent, look for the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) label, which indicates that the product has been tested by a third party lab under government specifications. However, the green Playskool crayons are apparently manufactured according to CPSC standards.

What’s a parent to do? Make a habit of checking with the Safer School Supplies shopping guide before making purchases. If you have the time and energy, a couple of “mommy blogs” offer recipes for making your own crayons, using waxes and pigment powders. Once you gather the ingredients, it doesn’t look that difficult, and you can even get ochre powder. So, it’s actually possible to skip the petroleum products and the asbestos and make an old-fashioned caveman crayon.

Jessie Haas has written 40 books, mainly for children, and has lived in an off-grid cabin in Westminster West, VT since 1984,


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