Early in the 20th century there were around 5,000 consumer products produced that contained asbestos. People were exposed to these products every day. In the 1950’s, many kitchen appliances contained asbestos, including slow cookers. These cookers are often referred to as “crock pots,” though Crock Pot is a brand-specific name. It is remarkably convenient to come home from work and have the main course of a meal already cooked. However, the insulating layer between the inner and outer shells of the cooker was often made from asbestos. Since asbestos is a good heat and fire resistant material it was often used in appliances that use electricity, sometimes wrapped around the cord.
Asbestos serves as a form of insulation in these products to avoid fires caused by shorts or other electrical problems. Any appliance that runs a risk of overheating was likely manufactured using asbestos at one time. In the case of the slow cooker, the asbestos layer prevented heat loss within the pot while keeping the outside cool to the touch. Workers in factories where such appliances were manufactured are at risk for developing asbestosis, mesothelioma, or other respiratory problems.
For the consumer, however, the story is different. Since asbestos is harmless when it remains intact in a solid form, the material contained in small appliances such as slow cookers is less likely to cause illness than particles resulting from, for example, broken ceiling tiles or torn housing insulation. However, anyone attempting to repair the device might come into contact with a damaged layer of asbestos that releases fibers into the air. Though the amount would likely be small, no exposure to asbestos is safe. The appliance should be repaired by a professional or, more safely, replaced. These days, it is easy to find small appliances that work just as well but are free of asbestos.