Asbestos in Hair Dryers and Other Appliances
Hair dryers were one of many household appliances manufactured during the twentieth century that contained a significant quantity of asbestos insulation. The reason was simple: the heating element inside the device was a fire hazard.
Asbestos was a cheap and easily-available flame retardant used in large numbers of household and industrial products. Although the health dangers of asbestos were established by medical science by the mid-1930s (after many years of research), public awareness of the risk was relatively limited, and was dampened by a much greater public concern about the risk of fire.
In a report from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission dated November 1979, test results showed that thirty hair dryers that were tested "were found to be emitting asbestos fiber levels comparable to or greater than other serious levels of asbestos in the general environment, such as those found in certain school buildings and near construction sites."
After this report was released, nearly forty domestic manufacturers of hair dryers voluntarily agreed to stop production of asbestos-insulated dryers. Since then however, virtually all U.S. manufacturing of hair dryers has been moved to factories overseas with little or no environmental or regulatory oversight. As a result, it is likely that these foreign-made appliances continue to contain and emit asbestos fibers.
Hazards Associated with Hair Dryer Products
Unlike many products for which the risk of asbestos exposure comes from the use of older equipment or exposure to obsolete technologies, it is possible that current hair dryers that are imported from overseas may pose asbestos health risks. About one in five hair dryers produced before 1979 used asbestos insulation; no figures are available for modern dryers as the manufacturers do not provide information about the insulation of their products.
Older hair dryers that are still in use pose a very significant asbestos exposure risk to anyone still using them. The asbestos insulation in those older machines is very old and even if the machines were not used at all, simple age would make it likely that the asbestos in the insulation has become friable, meaning that the individual asbestos fibers can easily break free from the surrounding material and be inhaled. Asbestos inhalation is strongly correlated to the development of serious lung diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer, and pleural mesothelioma.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Untold Story of Asbestos (New York: Touchstone, 2003)
N/A. "Independent Analysis For CPSC Confirms Potential Health Threat Posed By Asbestos Hair Dryers." U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission Press Release, 2 November 1979.