The Consumer Product Safety Commission is preparing a massive survey to determine whether millions of common household appliances now in use contain cancer-causing asbestos.
The survey could be the first step in building a case for banning or limiting use of the fibrous material, which has been found to cause cancer and respiratory disease.
The fear is that asbestos fibers -- so small they can't be seen without a microscope -- will flake off, drift into the air and find their way into people's lungs, where they can cause cancer up to 20 years later.
Virtually every electric household gadget except refrigerators is on the list of appliances that are suspected of using the dangerous asbestos fibers as insulation.
Electric boiler, french fryers, frying pans, electric mixers, popcorn poppers, slow cookers, ranges, ovens, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, curling irons, electric blankets and portable electric heaters are among the targets of the study.
Also suspected of harboring the cancer-causing compound are texture paints, certain types of wallboard, iron rests and burner mats, safes and five resistant storage boxes, filing cabinets incinerators, ceramic kilns and insulating rings and gaskets in wood stoves.
Manufacturers and importers of all those items will be asked to tell the CPSC whether there is any asbestos in any of the products they've built or brought into the country in the past 10 years.
The consumer agency's staff has drafted the survey, and final action on it is expected to be taken by the five commissioners next week.
The environmental Protection Agency also is preparing a massive hunt for asbestos hazards, but CPSC officials said the two agencies are not duplicating each other's efforts.
The CPSC already has banned use of asbestos in artifical fireplace logs and plaster patching compounds and has ordered the recall of millions of hair dryers made with asbestos.
The new study of other consumer products is being prepared to determine how widely the substance is used in items to which virtually everyone in America is exposed every day.
"The commission is concerned that consumer products containing asbestos may pose a risk of cancer and respiratory disease if the asbestos fibers are released into the air," the survey drafted for the agency notes "Animal tests and human epidemiological studies support that conclusion."
England and Sweden are moving toward totally eliminating use of asbestos and the United States has already curtailed the permitted use of the material.
Not all uses of asbestos pose a hazard to consumers. If the asbestos insulation in a slow cooker or electric french fryer is sealed inside a metal shell, there is little danger it will be released into the air and find its way into the lungs of users.
But workers in plants that use asbestos in the products they make may be threatened by exposure, and protecting the workers could require taking asbestos out of the item.
The danger to workers has been documented extensively in the shipbuilding industry, where the fibers were applied lavishly to insulate against heat and noise.