The Consumer Product safety Commission yesterday summoned the 10 leading manufacturers of home hair dryers to a Washington conference next week to discuss whether the asbestos insulation in some of them presents a health hazard.
The agency's action was prompted by an investigative report on WRC-TV done in collaboration with Environmental Defense Fund. Previously the agency had done its own study and determined that hand-held hair dryers were not a problem.
Dr. Joseph Highland of the fund told the station that the amount of asbestos coming out of the dryers may be comparable to "living near an asbestos mine and breathing the dust." Twenty-five brands and models were identified as containing asbestos, although the station stressed that this did not necessarily mean they were discharging fibers. Asbestos is a known cancer-causing agent.
Many manufacturers denied the charges yesterday, and most of them stated they no longer use asbestos to insulate their dryers. Mica if generally substituted.
As for those that still do, Montgomery Ward and J.C. Penney announced that they were suspending the sale of those models temporarily. Sears Roebuck's spokesman, on the other hand, stated, "A Sears laboratory has determined that a potentially hazardous environment could not exist considering the limited use of hair dryers and the extremely insignificant amount of asbestos fibers which may come loose during the service life of the product."
A random survey of Washington area hair salon operators revealed blow drying was continuing as usual, although a few customers are said to have asked their hairdressers about the dryers.
The TV inquiry began after a photographer, using a hair dryer on his plates, found they were dusty.
The EDF study tested 100 dryers for asbestos. It then selected six popular models, equally divided between old and new units. A four-year-old Norelco was found to give off 550 billionths of a gram of asbestos per cubic meter of air (nanograms) compared with 33 nanograms for a new Penney's model.
Stated another way, a person using that old Norelco dryer 30 minutes a day, sevens days a week in a closed bathroom would be subjected to a level of asbestos particles double the amount measured in classrooms with asbestos ceiling tile, and equal to the amount found in homes of asbestos industry workers who have develpoed lung cancer.
North American Philips Corp., manufacturer of Noreco products, said that only one of its dryers made in the last four years has contained asbestos. The company said it never has received any complaints about flying particles and that the dryer met safety requirements when made.
Conair Corp., which claims to have the best-selling brand, declared it is not making any hairdryers containing asbestos. However, one of its 14 models was briefly manufacturered with asbestos in 1976.
According to EDF, 13 million handheld home hair dryers were sold last year at a cost of $210 million. The EDF estimates that 10 million of the 55 million dryers sold since 1974 contain asbestos and therefore may be dangerous.
CPSC Chairman Susan King annouced plans yesterday for new tests to "determine the nature of the fibers that are released and the degree of hazard to consumers in foreseeable use of the product."
She urged manufacturers to take voluntary action, adding that possible federal actions could include banning further manafacure and sale plus recalls of dryers containing asbestos.
Sen. Wendell Ford (D-Ky.) called a hearing before his consumer sub-committee next Monday on what he called a "potentially devastating" situation. He said he wanted to ask the CPSC how long it will take to determine the certainty and the amount of a substantial hazard in this area.
The CPSC has set its meeting for next Thursday. Among those summoned were executives from Sears, Montgomery Ward and J. C. Penney, the manufacturers of the following brands: Schick, Conair, Hamilton Beach, Clairol, Norelco, Sunbeam, General Electric and Gillette, and representatives of the American Electric Corp. and Underwriters Laboratories.
The following brands and models were identified by WRC-TV as containing asbestos, although they are not necessarily actually discharging asbestos:
Conair 1200, model 065; Dandy, FS-344 (Mini); Davar (Mini); GE Power Turbo 1200, Pro 10-5115-013; GE Super Pro 1400, Pro 6-5112-005; GE Super Turbo Pro 1400, Pro 11-5116-005; Hamilton Beach 1200, model 480; Hamilton Beach Groomer II, model 423; Nobel (Mini); Norelco 1000, model HB 1700; Penney's Professional Type 1000, model 1050A; Penney's 1000 watt Rotary Model 1121; Penney's 1200 retail no. 064-1190; Penney's 1400, retail no. 064-1180;
Saneyi Mighty 1000, model E-2095; Sears Men's 1000, model 253-6314; Sears Men's 1000, model 253-6385; Sears Women's 1000 model 253-8714; Sears Women's 1000 model 253-8736; Sears Women's model 253-8754; Sunbeam Professionaire 1000, no. 52-9K; Vornado model E42813; Wards 1050 model 52-6 196368; Wards 1250 model 52-6 19367; and Wards Variable Power 1400, model 52-6 19361.