Sky lanterns, also called paper or Chinese lanterns, are often used at celebrations to light up the sky. Although they are beautiful to watch float up into the air with their flickering lights, what goes up must come down. As it is, there are several concerns about the safety of sky lanterns, including the hazard they pose when they come back to the ground, due to the asbestos content in some of these products.
Sky lanterns have been used for thousands of years, dating back to the third century B.C. when the Chinese experimented with using these small hot air balloons to send messages. Traditionally, sky lanterns have been made from rice paper on a bamboo frame, with a small candle hanging beneath it for the fire source. Used in the military by many Asian countries, these small airborne lights have also become popular for festivals, weddings, and other celebrations and are still used in abundance today across the world.
Dangers of Sky Lanterns
Although sky lanterns have been used for centuries, there are dangers associated with these celebratory items. While the first sky lanterns were made from natural materials with a small fire source, those manufactured today may pose a larger risk. Some of the concerns surrounding sky lanterns today include:
Fire hazard: If a sky lantern returns to the ground while it is still lit, it poses a fire danger. Sky lanterns have been known to begin fires, causing property damage and possibly injury.
Air distraction: There is concern that sky lanterns can interfere with air travel, causing a distraction for pilots. Sky lanterns returning to the ground have also been known to cause accidents when they come down in front of a vehicle, forcing the driver to swerve.
Litter: When the flame burns out, these lanterns return to the ground, leaving debris. One person’s beautiful display becomes another’s unsightly mess. In addition to littering the ground, there is concern that animals both on land and in the sea may be harmed by pieces of these lanterns.
Asbestos: Many of the sky lanterns that have been sold around the world have been found to contain asbestos, which is linked to mesothelioma cancer and other health issues. Although asbestos products have been banned from sale in many countries, there have been recent sky lanterns sold that were still found to contain asbestos.
Sky lanterns have been banned in some countries due to some or all of these dangers. Austria banned their use in 2011 and they are also banned in most parts of Germany.
Asbestos Use in Sky Lanterns
While not all sky lanterns use asbestos, several models have been found to have the substance in their materials. While products are tested for asbestos, sky lanterns that are imported from other countries can slip undetected into the domestic market. Standard asbestos testing such as EN71 used in Europe is ineffective in detecting asbestos in sky lanterns, as specific testing must be done to identify the substance. Products are only specifically tested if there is an alert.
The reason asbestos may be used in the construction of sky lanterns is its known fire-resistance qualities. This is also why asbestos was used in many applications for building construction, fireplaces, appliances, ship building and many other products. The U.S. Department of Health and Human services, along with the EPA, has labeled asbestos a carcinogen, restricting its use in the U.S. It has been shown to cause lung cancer and mesothelioma in those with extensive exposure to this deadly substance. Asbestos is still used in some U.S. manufacturing, but products cannot contain more than 1% asbestos to meet EPA and CSPC regulations.
Due to the extreme risks of asbestos, it is understandable to be concerned about the use of this substance in any product. Sky lanterns have been found to contain asbestos, exposing unsuspecting people to this toxic substance. Some recent sky lanterns that have been found to contain asbestos include:
- Wire Free Sky Lanterns: This product was made in the UK by Skylanterns.com and used string that contains chrysotile asbestos.
- Deluxe White Sky Lantern Eco Wedding Pack. Made in China, this product also used a string that contains chrysotile asbestos.
- White Sky Lanterns: A UK product sold under the brand Redwood Leisure (model SL300), this sky lantern also uses chrysotile asbestos string.
- The Original Sky Lantern: Made in China by the company Bright Star Fireworks, these sky lanterns also have tested positive for asbestos.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell if a product like a sky lantern contains asbestos simply by looking at it. Since these products are imported from other countries, they can slip undetected into the market, especially when sold online. For example, “The Original Sky Lantern” products are readily available on eBay. Anyone who chooses to ignore the other risks of sky lanterns should be sure to only buy from distributors who offer products that are guaranteed to be asbestos-free.
If something as simple and seemingly non-threatening as a sky lantern can contain asbestos, there could be many other products that contain this deadly carcinogen on the market. Until there are better regulations put in place to detect these products, consumers need to stay aware by watching product recall lists for asbestos items. Also, contacting state and federal representatives in the legislature to ban asbestos products completely is another option to help reduce exposure to this toxic substance. It is important for everyone to remain vigilant against harmful products that could affect the health and wellbeing of their families.