Blown away: EDF investigation of asbestos in hair dryers

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.

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  1. jscott13
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Must the government keep on turning its head on dangerous chemicals and materials on just about every products?!

  2. jscott13
    Posted April 1, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    One one thing, my father developed lung disease after being exposed to asbestos when he was a sheet metal worker. I remember how bad his coughs were. He passed away at age 77 when he stopped breathing in his sleep.

  3. Posted April 2, 2010 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    This sounds like it has the potential to be a huge health epidemic. I’m with a resource center for victims of asbestos related diseases ( and know firsthand the devastating effects that can result from exposure…but never on this scale.

    You mentioned banning (or lack thereof) of asbestos in the U.S. – we actually recently launched a campaign to urge Congress to join the rest of the developed world and ban it altogether. If interested, you can check it out at

    – JM