Asbestos and retail – not just a cosmetic problem

Asbestos and retail – not just a cosmetic problem

An American mum made the unpleasant discovery that a make-up kit sold by chain retailer Claire’s, belonging to her six-year-old daughter, had asbestos in it.

The 30-year-old mother, who’s from Rhode Island and works for a law firm herself, told journalists she felt she had to research further after she found her daughter’s glitter make-up kit said that the product was made in China, but offered no further details about what ingredients it contained.

Kristi Warner duly sent the kit to a private lab to be tested. The results revealed that the kit contained tremolite asbestos, which has been linked to cancer.

She sent a further 17 products from the Chicago-based retailer, whose jewellery, cosmetics and accessories products are overwhelmingly aimed at young women and girls, for testing – and says the results all came back positive.

The mum also explained that she didn’t know what to reply when her daughter Mackenzie asked her what was happening.

“I physically sank,” she told reporters after taking the story to her local radio station, WJAR-TV. “I ended up sitting on the ground, trying to understand how something like that could end up in our home.”

Mackenzie asked her if she was going to die, to which, Warner says, “There’s no right answer because I don’t want to lie to her. In the work that we do, we’ve come across contaminated cosmetics, but you just assume that a children’s product is safe.”

Negative publicity following asbestos story

The story was certainly a PR headache for the 57-year-old retail chain, which has nearly 3,500 stores including more than 1,100 in Europe, and branches across the UK.

And it sparked outrage on social media, with Twitter users making comments such as “Do you even have a quality inspection?” and “A company your size has the money and resources to perform proper quality control inspections. Sourcing products from other countries without testing and due diligence is at best, lazy, dangerous, and definitely negligent.”

One wrote simply “I hope you go out of business for putting millions of children in grave danger.”

Response from Claire’s: product recall

In response, the retailer released a link to a page with a list of the products it had decided to recall. (About 10 of them.)

It also gave this statement to a national newspaper:

“The initial results of testing by an independent certified laboratory show that the cosmetics tested to date are asbestos-free. Additional testing is underway. We have also confirmed that the talcum ingredient supply is from a certified asbestos-free European vendor.

“We will honour returns for any customers remaining uncomfortable.”

A spokesman added: “The safety of our customers is paramount, and we are passionate about the safety and integrity of our products.”

Asbestos problems in store elsewhere

Claire’s is not the only retailer to have got into trouble with asbestos. Justice, a US retail chain, again aimed at girls, announced last summer it had stopped selling a highlighter powder following a TV report alleging the product contained asbestos.

Clearly, the issue is not just that the cancer-causing substance can get into products, it can also be found in retail premises, where it can pose a risk to shoppers, staff and any other visitors.

Asbestos-containing materials often remain unnoticed in premises constructed or refurbished up until 1999, including many High Street shops and other retail units.

In August 2016, BHS famously closed the last 22 of its 94 High Street stores across the UK, many of which contained asbestos.

Meanwhile, M&S has found asbestos at different times at various branches. The flagship branch in London’s Marble Arch had to warn customers and staff about this issue as recently as 2013.

Popular retailer Woolworths also had many stores which contained asbestos as they had not been refurbished for many years. Core Surveys carried out refurbishment surveys on several of the stores prior to their refurbishment after they were bought following liquidation.

Dangers of asbestos to human health

Asbestos is toxic to the human circulatory system, and often fatal. Moving or otherwise disturbing the fibres makes them airborne, so that they can be inhaled and will sit in the system, often for years or decades without symptoms. There are no symptoms and no way of knowing you’ve inhaled the fibres, until the fibres give rise to a typically life-threatening condition from which recovery is almost impossible.

Children and young people, with more time ahead of them to develop illnesses, are especially vulnerable, making problems with brands aimed at youngsters, like Claire’s or Justice, especially serious.

In almost every case of mesothelioma, an incurable cancer affecting the lining of the lung, the cause can be traced to asbestos. Despite the asbestos legislation that’s now effective, there are more mesothelioma deaths in the UK than anywhere else worldwide.

More information about asbestos safety

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has an area of its website dedicated to giving information about asbestos.

Get an asbestos survey

These stories of asbestos discoveries in shops or their products highlight the importance of not taking any chances with asbestos, especially with buildings the public visit. The only way to be 100% sure a building is either free from asbestos or that it is being managed effectively is to conduct an asbestos survey and perform asbestos testing on any suspected material samples.

Core Surveys, based in Fletching Common, East Sussex, and Monmouthshire, South Wales works nationwide. We’re fully accredited to undertake all types of asbestos inspections and testing, while also providing asbestos management services and awareness training. Our clients range from homeowners to charities and large organisations – we help with legal compliance on asbestos. Talk to a member of the team to learn more.