Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.
On March 30, the Washington Post ran the following story:
[Clarification added 4/2/10: I have now learned that the text below is actually a summary of two Post articles, which ran in Environment magazine (April 1979, p. 21). Click these links for previews of the 3/29/79 and 3/30/79 Post articles, available for purchase from its archives. Apologies for the incorrect information.]
Reporters from WRC-TV, the NBC Station in Washington, D. C., spent nine months investigating asbestos-lined hair dryers after the Consumer Product Safety Commission declined to do so. The station, in collaboration with the Environmental Defense Fund, conducted an investigation which culminated in an uninterrupted 15-minute news segment detailing the results of their findings.
EDF estimates that some 10 million of the 55 million hair dryers sold since 1974 have asbestos linings and that some of these dryers emit potentially dangerous levels of asbestos particles. Asbestos is a potent carcinogen, and government estimates suggest that it is responsible for as many as 75,000 cancer deaths annually.
Dr. Joseph Highland of EDF commented that using some of these dryers is equivalent to "living near an asbestos mine and breathing the dust." As a result of the report, CPSC has called a meeting of the ten leading manufacturers of the hair dryers.
In the meantime, most of the manufacturers have suspended sales of their asbestos-lined dryers; some of them have arranged for recall and replacement of the dryers. The TV investigation began after a photographer, who was using a hair dryer to dry his photographic plates, found that the plates were dusty.
Click here for more detail, BUT then come back here and finish reading this post.
This article appeared in the Washington Post on March 30 … in 1979 [see clarification at the top of this post]. That's the April Fool's part of this post.
But here's the part that's not fooling: What is described in this article actually happened. And while asbestos production and use in the U.S. has declined dramatically — not because it was banned by government, but because of legal liability — 31 years later asbestos is still killing nearly 10,000 people every year.
No doubt the publicity surrounding this episode spurred or lent momentum to EPA's ill-fated attempt to ban asbestos under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).
Yet decades later, the very same TSCA that didn't allow EPA to ban asbestos is still the nation's primary law that is supposed to ensure the safety of chemicals.
TSCA reform is long overdue, and that's no joke.