Is Your Camping Gear Safe? How to Check for Asbestos in Camping Gear

Camping should be a fun and safe activity, but asbestos in camping gear can be a serious health hazard. Read our guide to stay safe.
Asbestos in Camping Gear

Did you know there was once a time where your tent or sleeping bag may have contained asbestos? Did you also know that most forms of asbestos are not legally banned in the United States?

Prior to the 1990s, asbestos was used for its insulating and fire retardant properties, before people realized that it can cause terrible health problems like cancer and respiratory damage.

Don’t panic – camping gear made after 1990 is unlikely to contain asbestos. However, anything made before this time may still contain the toxic substance. So if you have old gear that you’re hanging onto, this article will explore what asbestos is, how to identify and properly dispose of the material.

What is Asbestos?

Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that was once widely used in various industries, including construction, automotive, and shipbuilding. It is composed of thin, needle-like fibers that can easily break and become airborne when disturbed. 

Asbestos exposure can occur through inhalation or ingestion of these fibers, which can cause serious health problems over time.

Since that time there have been billions of dollars awarded in class action lawsuits by consumers and workers who were exposed to this toxic substance without awareness of the health dangers.

The Dangers of Asbestos Exposure

Health problems caused by asbestos fibers include the following:

  • Asbestosis: An inflammatory condition affecting the lungs that can cause shortness of breath, coughing, and permanent lung damage.
  • Lung Cancer: Asbestos exposure increases the risk of developing lung cancer, particularly in those who smoke.
  • Mesothelioma: A rare and aggressive form of cancer that affects the lining of the lungs, abdomen, or heart.
  • Pleural disorders: Asbestos exposure can cause changes in the membranes surrounding the lungs, resulting in pleural plaques, pleural thickening, and benign pleural effusions.

Regulations for asbestos

While most people may think that asbestos is completely banned from use in the United States, sadly it is not. There have been various efforts to ban asbestos, but the regulations around its use have been limited in scope. 

The Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the use of asbestos in artificial fireplace embers and wall patching compounds in 1977.1

In 1989, the EPA banned the manufacture, import, processing, and distribution of some asbestos-containing products. Additionally, the EPA banned new uses, which prevented new asbestos products from entering the marketplace after August 25, 1989. 2

However, it’s important to note that in 1991, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the EPA’s 1989 ban on most asbestos-containing products. As a result, only a few asbestos-containing products remain banned today. 3

Asbestos in Camping Gear

Asbestos exposure is most common in industrial settings and among workers who handle materials that contain asbestos. While asbestos exposure in camping equipment made after 1980 is highly unlikely, camping equipment that was manufactured during the 1970s and before may contain asbestos because it was not yet banned at this point.

Some examples of camping equipment that may have asbestos include:

  • Vintage trailers and campers 4
  • Vinyl tiles in camping trailers and motorhomes 4
  • Insulation for pipes and stoves 5
  • Heat-resistant gloves and clothing 5
  • Sleeping bags, tents, and other gear with insulation or fire-resistant coatings 6

Camping equipment brands who used asbestos in their products prior to the 1980s:

Prior to the 1980s, camping equipment brands like Wenzel, Coleman, and Eureka added asbestos to their products because of its insulation properties. This includes sleeping bags, tents, and other outdoor equipment.

If you have any old camping equipment manufactured by these brands, you should carefully inspect it for asbestos and consider removing it to an approved disposal facility. 

Please note that to our knowledge, these brands no longer have asbestos in their equipment. You should contact any manufacturer directly to confirm.

How to Test for Asbestos in Camping Equipment?

  • Gather Necessary Equipment and Materials: You will need gloves, a respirator, sealable bags, and sampling tools such as a knife, scissors, or pliers. It is important to wear proper personal protective equipment (PPE) when handling potentially hazardous materials.
  • Choose Sampling Locations: Identify areas of camping equipment that may contain asbestos, such as fire retardant coatings, insulation materials, gaskets, or brake pads. If unsure, consult the manufacturer or a certified laboratory. See below for laboratory resources.
  • Collect Samples: Using the sampling tools, carefully collect small samples of the material suspected to contain asbestos. Place the samples in sealable bags and avoid creating dust or disturbing the material.
  • Package and Label Samples: Label the sample bags with the location of the sample and the date it was collected. Place the samples in a larger sealable container and fill out the necessary paperwork for shipping to a certified laboratory.
  • Send Samples to a Certified Laboratory: Choose a laboratory accredited by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Laboratory Accreditation Program (NVLAP) Directory, the American Industrial Hygiene Association (AIHA) or AIH Labs for testing. Follow their specific instructions for shipping and handling the samples. There may be a fee for testing.

How to safely dispose of camping gear with asbestos

If you are sure you have an asbestos-contaminated consumer good in your home and it is damaged, friable, or crumbling, it is best to hire a licensed asbestos abatement company to handle and dispose of the product. 7

However, if you are planning to handle the product yourself, you must follow the proper procedures for disposal to prevent any potential exposure.

Here are some steps to follow for the safe disposal of consumer products containing asbestos:

  • Step 1: Wear Protective Clothing and Equipment

Before handling any asbestos-containing materials, it is important to protect yourself by wearing the proper clothing and equipment. You should wear disposable coveralls, gloves, and a respirator with a P100 filter to prevent any asbestos fibers from entering your lungs.

  • Step 2: Wet the Material

To prevent the release of asbestos fibers, you should wet the material with a fine mist of water before handling it. This will help to keep any fibers from becoming airborne during removal.

  • Step 3: Place the Material in Sealed Bags

After the material has been wetted down, you should carefully remove it and place it in a sealed, labeled bag that is specifically designed for asbestos disposal. These bags are often colored red or clear and labeled with warnings about their contents.

  • Step 4: Use Specialized Vacuum for Cleanup

Use a specialized asbestos vacuum to clean the work area. A household vacuum cleaner is not recommended for this task as it may release asbestos fibers into the air.

  • Step 5: Label and Dispose of Asbestos Waste

All waste and material used in the cleanup must be disposed of as asbestos waste, including disposable cloths, filters, equipment, and building materials. You must transport the asbestos-containing waste in closed containers that are packed in such a way that it does not tip, spill, or break. 5

Final Thoughts

The weak regulation of asbestos by US governmental agencies and the presence of the substance in older camping equipment highlights the importance of being aware of the materials used in the products we use, especially when dealing with older items. 

If you suspect that your camping equipment contains asbestos, the safest option is to quickly dispose of it properly. The EPA provides resources for building owners, managers, and parents regarding federal requirements for asbestos, including cleanup and disposal procedures. 8

Remember, asbestos exposure can have serious long-term health consequences, so it’s crucial to prioritize your health. When in doubt, throw it out!


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Kristina M.

Kristina M.

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