Asbestos in Crayons: How I Salvaged My Recycled Crayon Project

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Now this is the kind of stuff that makes me want to write a second book:

For months, my 5-year-old Sam and I have been planning a very special project to share with his preschool friends. The school agreed to set aside a time for me to come do a short presentation on “upcycling” with a fun hands-on project – recycling broken, old crayons into new fun-shaped crayons!

What a treat it would be to teach the kids a great way to recycle and make a cool craft at the same time! For weeks we collected broken crayons from families and Sam spread the word that “Thursday was going to be a special project with my mommy!” Even the blackboard in the preschool entrance read, “Thursday is Crayon Day!” We were stoked.

Wednesday afternoon, just after I packed up everything I would need for the following day, I opened my laptop to see a steady stream of ALERT! ASBESTOS IN CRAYONS warnings on my Facebook Feed:

Awesome.

And this is not some urban-legend stuff. These are legitimate studies done by trusted organization Environmental Working Group. This was covered by CNN. This is a very real thing.

Now, reading these reports, I am naturally appalled – but sadly not surprised – that crayons could contain actual poison. And though this information is frightening, I would still probably let my kids color with whatever crayons were given to them in a restaurant and keep the ones in their goody bags (typically one of the only goody bag items I don’t throw out).

But I am about to present a project to a classroom of children in which we literally COOK ASBESTOS. And then go home to tell their parents how they would like to do this on a regular basis.

You see, the crayons have already been collected and there’s a good chance some of them would test positive for asbestos. So it seemed like melting them couldn’t be a great idea. Turns out, I’m right.

“Toxic substances embedded in wax as in encaustics sticks or crayons are often deemed safe. But if encaustics are fused by heating or using torches, or if crayons are melted to make into candles (a common project), the wax converts into toxic airborne emissions and toxic pigments can fume into the air.” – Alternet

So what do I do now that I’ve promised a bunch of children I would essentially turn their art room/lunchroom into a meth lab?

First: panic. Then cry. Then ask everyone on the Internet what they would do.

Some suggest scrapping the project altogether. Some suggest saying “screw it” and teaching the kids how to burn poison over an open flame. But the most rational minds helped me to find a solution better than trying to create an incredibly lame project where we just glue broken crayons to paper and call it a mosaic.

1. Sort through the collected crayons and cherry-pick only those that can be identified as Crayola, a made-in-the-USA brand that does not contain asbestos. Sadly this means I also have to discard any “naked crayons.”

2. Ask the school if I can send a note home in the children’s cubbies about what we did, how to replicate the project, and why they should only use Crayola!

Fortunately, everyone was receptive to crayon sorting and accepting this new information along with the learning experience. For any children who asked, I simply explained that some crayons don’t melt well – which is also entirely true.

Overall “Crayon Day” was a great success!

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