Top 10 Tips: Choosing Art Materials

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Art materials are so ubiquitous in our homes and schools that we take for granted they are safe. Yet they may contain dangerous chemicals such as solvents, heavy metals, phthalates and preservatives like formaldehyde and parabens. Exposure can occur by ingestion, inhalation or absorption through skin. Follow these guidelines to keep art projects safe and fun.


1. Choose the safest medium available for your art project. Select water based paints over oils; coloring pencils instead of markers; glue sticks and school glues rather than rubber cement; and substitute flour based clays for polymer (baking) clays. Safeguard against inhalation of vapors from solvents, mists from sprays, and dusts from mixing and sanding dry paints and clays.

2. Read packaging carefully as labeling can be confusing. Safer products will carry the U.S. labeling phrase “Conforms to ASTM D 4236.” Safer products may also carry the “Approved” seal from Info. Tox. International or “AP” (Approved) seal from ACMI, an industry funded group.

3. Avoid products with signal words and precautionary labels: Poison, Danger, Warning and Caution or the “CL” (Caution) label from ACMI. Take seriously the warnings that follow these signal words.

4. Understand what the certifications really mean. Conforms to ASTM D 4236, the Info. Tox. International seal and the AP seal mean the product has been reviewed by a toxicologist and judged to not contain materials in sufficient quantities to cause acute or chronic health problems. It does not mean the product is free of toxic chemicals.

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