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Do Chinese lanterns pose an asbestos danger?

Chinese Lanterns have received mixed reviews in recent times. They first became popular several years ago, and are now a common sight at New Year and birthday celebrations around the UK.

Seen by some as more of a fire hazard than a way to celebrate, several countries including Austria and Germany, now have restrictions and bans in place. Other general concerns about Chinese lanterns include their potential danger to people, buildings, and livestock, when they land – often several miles away from the site of launch.

A further danger has now been added to the list, however, and one that could have long-lasting effects on health. Asbestos-containing materials (ACMs) have been found in the manufacture of some Chinese lanterns imported from abroad, with chrysotile asbestos being used for the string.

Fire-proofing qualities

Asbestos is a mineral known for its fire-proofing qualities, and although the substance has been banned in many countries, some lanterns made using ACMs are slipping through the net and being unwittingly imported into this country.

It’s been reported that some companies use chrysotile asbestos string in the make-up of their lanterns. Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure whether or not a product contains asbestos without proper testing, but the safest way to make sure would be to buy one that has an asbestos-free guarantee from the manufacturer.

Banned in parts of Scotland

Several years ago Trading Standards officers in Scotland reported finding Chinese lanterns coated in a type of asbestos. Perth and Kinross council subsequently banned their use on local authority land in early 2015.

Traditionally made from oiled rice paper and bamboo with a small candle below, the lanterns were originally used to send messages by the Chinese military. They’re now a popular way for party and festival-goers to end their celebrations or herald in the New Year, much to the disillusionment of local farmers who fear damage to their properties as well as to livestock.

In fact, the risk of fire was dramatically highlighted in the summer of 2013, when a sky lantern landed on a plastics and paper recycling centre in the West Midlands. Setting light to 100,000 tonnes of plastic, it caused the biggest fire ever seen in the area.

How serious is the risk

Although low-level exposure to asbestos is unlikely to cause serious long-term health issues, any product containing the substance should be treated with caution. A known carcinogen, asbestos fibres can easily become lodged in the lung membranes if inhaled, potentially setting up serious illness in the future.

Iceland was the first country to ban all asbestos in 1983, with the UK ban coming into force in 1999. Asbestos was a huge and affluent industry, and America is yet to introduce a total ban on asbestos-containing materials.

Although various bills have been passed through the Senate over the years, they have failed to get through the House of Representatives in their original form.