Labeling of Art Materials:

By Michael McCann, Ph.D., C.I.H.

Any warnings on the labels of your art materials should be your first alert as to whether the material is hazardous.  At least this is true if the art materials are properly labeled, as required under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act and the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act of 1988.
Acute Hazard Labeling

The campaign to obtain adequate warning labels on art materials started in the late 1970's, as an adjunct to education about art hazards.  At that time, the only warnings required on art materials (and other consumer products) were for acute hazards, that is, from a single exposure.  The Federal Hazardous Substances Act, the law regulating consumer products, only required acute toxicity tests for single dose ingestion, inhalation, skin absorption, and eye contact.  If less than half the animals died within two weeks at a dose rate of 5 grams per kilogram of body weight, then the material could be labeled "non-toxic".  Under this law, asbestos could have been labeled non-toxic because it wouldn't kill you in two weeks!  The warning label for products with acute hazards must contain:

    1.    the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, distributor, or seller;
    2.    the common or usual or chemical name of each substance contributing substantially to the hazard;
    3.    the signal word "DANGER" for extremely flammable, corrosive or highly toxic substances;
    4.    the signal word "WARNING" or "CAUTION" on other hazardous substances;
    5.    a statement of the principal hazards;
    6.    precautionary measures;
    7.    first-aid instructions;
    8.    the word "poison"  for highly toxic substances;
    9.    instructions for special handling or storage; and
    10.    the statement "Keep out of the reach of children" or equivalent, or if intended for children, adequate precautions for safe use by children.

Chronic Hazard Labeling

The problem was, and is, that artists and even hobbyists have to be concerned about the health effects of repeated exposures to art materials, not just a single exposure.  This concern about the chronic effects of art materials led to Congressional hearings in 1980, and an attempt to pass a law requiring* the chronic hazards be listed on the label of art materials.
Voluntary Labeling Standards

Faced with the possibility of mandatory federal legislation, manufacturers responded in the early 1980's by developing a voluntary labeling standard under the auspices of the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Subcommittee D-01.57 on Artist Paints and Related Materials.  A coalition of manufacturers of art materials, representatives of artist's organizations, and health experts (including the author) worked to develop this voluntary standard, which was published as ASTM D-4236: Standard Practice for Labeling Art Materials for Chronic Health Hazards.

To be in compliance with this voluntary standard, a manufacturer of an art material would have to submit the formulation to a toxicologist who would evaluate the chronic hazards of the product based on current knowledge.  If a chronic hazard is found, then the label would have to be appropriately labeled (see section on Reading Warning Labels).

The main industry organization adopting ASTM D-4236 was the Art and Craft Materials Institute (ACMI), a trade association of art material manufacturers.  Art materials labeled in conformance with ASTM D-4236 carried a HL seal. According to the ACMI, "Products bearing the HL Health Label (Cautions Required) Seal of the Art and Craft Materials Institute, Inc. are certified to be properly labeled in a program of toxicological evaluation by a medical expert.  This program is reviewed by the Institute's Toxicological Review Board.  These products are certified by the Institute to be labeled in accordance with the voluntary chronic hazard labeling standard ASTM D-4236."

ASTM D-4236 was only a voluntary standard.  Although the manufacturers of most painting and drawing materials complied with this standard, most of the manufacturers of the more dangerous art materials, such as solvent-based silk screen printing inks, did not.

ASTM D-4236 is aimed at art materials for adults.  A voluntary standard for children's art materials has existed since 1939.  In that year, the Arts and Crafts Materials Institute (then the Crayon, Watercolor and Craft Institute) instituted a voluntary program to provide standards for the safety of children's art materials.  Products bearing their labels (AP, Approved Product, CP, Certified Product) have been "certified by an authority on toxicology associated with a leading university to contain no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to the body, even if ingested.  In addition, products bearing the CP seal meet specific requirements of material, workmanship, working qualities, and color described in the appropriate Product Standard issued by the ACMI, Inc. or any other recognized standards organizations."

Over its 50-year history, the quality of the program has varied with the skill of the toxicologist and the internal checks and balances in the program. The AP/CP program has been successful at eliminating acute hazards from children's art materials, although there have been concerns about the adequacy of the chronic hazard aspect of the ACMI program.  In addition, some oil paints have the AP/CP seal.  Even though these oil paints may be non-toxic, we do not approve their use by young children since solvents are needed for cleanup.

In the late 1980's, the California State Department of Health Services developed a list of approved art materials suitable for children ("Art and Craft Materials Acceptable for Kindergarten and Grades 1-6").  This list has been discontinued due to a lack of funding.


State Mandatory Laws

The problem with ASTM D-4236 is that it was a voluntary, not a mandatory labeling standard.  Many people, including this author, believed that in areas of health, it should not be up to a manufacturer to decide whether or not to put on a warning label on a hazardous product.  However, in the political climate of Washington in the early 1980's, there was no chance of passing a mandatory chronic hazards labeling law.  As a result, the focus shifted to the state legislatures.

At this time, the Nader Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) movement got involved.  PIRGs in a number of different states, with the assistance of the Center for Safety in the Arts, researched the hazards of art materials used in elementary and secondary schools - and found that children in many states were being exposed to hazardous art materials.  The various state PIRGs worked with legislators in several states to pass laws requiring chronic hazard labeling of art materials, and the banning of toxic art materials from elementary schools.  In 1984, California became the first state to pass such a law.  During the mid 1980's, Oregon, Tennessee, Illinois, Florida, Virginia, and Connecticut followed suit.

Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act of 1988

Art material manufacturers soon became concerned about the problems of variations in labeling laws from state to state.  In addition, manufacturers participating in the voluntary labeling program were concerned about losing sales to manufacturers who did not place a warning label on essentially identical art materials.  As a result, the art materials industry supported the move for federal legislation, and on November 18, 1988, Congress passed the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act.

The lobbying for this law was led by the U. S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG), the national lobbying office for state PIRGs.  Other organizations that supported this bill included the American  Association of Pediatrics, the American Association of School  Administrators, the American Public Health Association, Artists Equity,  the Center for Safety in the Arts, the National Education Association, the National Parents and Teachers Association, and a coalition of art material manufacturers, dealers, health professionals, and artists.

The Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act amended the Federal Hazardous Substances Act to require chronic hazard labeling of art materials.  Essentially, the new law adopts the voluntary standard ASTM D-4236.  The labeling requirements of the bill became effective on November 18, 1990.  Art materials whose labeling conforms to the law are required to carry the statement "Conforms to ASTM D-4236" or a similar statement.  The Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act also preempted existing state laws on art material labeling.

An "art material" includes "any substance marketed or represented by the producer or repackeger as suitable for use in any phase of the creation of any work of visual or graphic art of any medium."  The law applies to many children's toy products such as crayons, chalk, paint sets, and any other products used by children to produce a visual or graphic work of art.  Certain products may unfortunately fall through grey areas, for example, whiteboard markers used in schools.  The CPSC further defines two categories of art materials needing labeling as:

    1.    Those products which actually become a component of the work of visual or graphic art, such as paint, canvas, inks, crayons, chalk, solder, brazing rods, flux, paper, clay, stone, thread, cloth, and photographic film.
    2.    Those products which are closely and intimately associated with the creation of a final work of art, such as brush cleaners, solvents, ceramic kilns, brushes, silk screens, molds or moldmaking material, and photo developing chemicals.

Artists use many industrial products, including screen printing inks and other screen printing products, plastics resins, and ceramics materials.  Sometimes these are labeled "For Industrial Use Only."  They come under the jurisdiction of the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act if they meet the above criteria.  In these instances, the products must be labeled in accordance with the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act.  If the product does not meet these requirements, then it does not have to be labeled as an art material.  However, if the product is hazardous, it would still have to be labeled with its identity and hazard information under the Hazard Communication Standard of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act requires art and craft manufacturers to determine whether their products have the potential to cause chronic illness, and to place labels on those products that do.  The law requires that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) develop guidelines for chronic hazards.  These guildelines, however, are not mandatory. These guidelines include criteria for:

    1.    determining chronic health effects in adults and in children;
    2.    determining which chemicals in art materials can cause chronic adverse health effects such as cancer and reproductive effects;
    3.    determining how much is absorbed into the body (the bioavailability); and
    4.    determining acceptable daily intake levels for chronically-hazardous substances in art materials.

The law also requires that all chronically-hazardous art materials carry a statement that such materials are inappropriate for use by children, and allows the CPSC to obtain a court injunction against schools that purchase chronically-hazardous art materials for use by children in grade six and below. 

CPSC Labeling Regulations

On October 9, 1992, the Consumer Product Safety Commission issued its final rule on labeling requirements for art materials presenting chronic hazards, guidelines for chronic toxicity of products subject to the Federal Hazardous Substances Act, and a supplementary definition of "Toxic" under the FHSA (Federal Register, pp. 46,626-46,674).

As required by the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act, the rule codified the voluntary standard ASTM D-4236 with some changes as a CPSC rule [16 CFR 1500.14(b)(8)].  The definition of toxicity [16 CFR 1500.3(c)(2)] was modified to include a definition of chronic toxicity.  A substance is a chronic hazard if it is a known or probable human carcinogen, and has a cancer risk of one in a million or more, or is a known or probable neurotoxic or reproductive or developmental toxicant, and if exposure is above a certain defined level (Allowable Daily Intake).  This level is based on levels known to affect humans or animals, with the incorporation of safety factors. 

The definition of a known human carcinogen, for example, is for which there is  "sufficient evidence" of carcinogenicity in humans, and a probable human carcinogen is one in which there is "limited evidence" of carcinogenicity in humans or "sufficient evidence" in animals (16 CFR 1500.135).  Similar definitions apply to neurotoxins and developmental or reproductive toxicants.  Note that ASTM D-4236, and therefore this CPSC rule, includes other chronic hazards, not just those listed in the supplemental definition.

At this time, all art materials with chronic hazards should have precautionary labeling in accordance with this law and carry the statement "Conforms to ASTM D-4236" or similar wording.  However, some products on store shelves are still not in compliance.  Imported products in particular are a problem.

If the container size for any art material is larger than one fluid ounce (30 ml) or one ounce net weight (28 g), it must have complete precautionary labeling.  Art materials packaged in containers equal or smaller must have a signal word on the label and a list of potential harmful or sensitizing components.  This consideration is particularly relevant to markers and other materials that are packaged in small containers.

Canadian Labeling Laws

As in the United States, there are two types of labeling regulations: one for consumer products, and one for products used in the workplace.  Hazardous products packaged for consumer use are regulated under Part I (Prohibited and Restricted Products) of the federal Hazardous Products Act, administered by the Department of Consumer and Corporate Affairs.  Many art materials come under this category.  A Prohibited Product cannot be imported, sold, or used in Canada.  A Restricted Product can be imported, sold, or used under specified condition that can include a warning label and hazard symbol. 

Products used, handled, or stored in workplaces - which includes schools and, in some provinces (Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Quebec and Saskatchewan), self-employed artists - come under the jurisdiction of the Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).  This is Canada's Right-To-Know regulation, and requires labeling of hazardous products, Material Safety Data Sheets, and education of employees about WHMIS and hazardous materials.

A product is regulated under WHMIS as a Controlled Product (Part II of the federal Hazardous Product Act) if it falls into one or more of the following classes: compressed gas, flammable and combustible materials, oxidizing material, poisonous and infectious materials, corrosive material, or dangerously reactive material.  The labels of Controlled Products must contain the product identifier, supplier identifier, a statement about the availability of MSDSs, risk phrases, precautionary measures, Canadian hazard symbol(s), and first aid measures.  Note that WHMIS hazard symbols differ from consumer product hazard symbols.

Reading Warning Labels

Figure 1, (next page), is a typical health hazard label for a lead-containing product such as a pottery glaze.  This label can give you a fair amount of information about this product.
The warning label has the following components:

    •    Signal Word:  The signal word tells you the extent of the hazard.  DANGER is the most serious, followed by WARNING and CAUTION respectively.  DANGER is used for products that are highly toxic, corrosive, or extremely flammable.  WARNING  or CAUTION are used for substances that are less hazardous.  WARNING is also used for products that only have chronic hazards.  Some manufacturers also place symbols on the label to indicate the degree and type of danger.  This is mandatory in Canada.

    •    List of Potential Hazards:  This section lists the known significant acute and chronic hazards under reasonably foreseeable use of the product. The hazards should be listed in order of descending severity and should specify hazard type.

    •    Name of Hazardous Component(s):  This contains a list of the common or usual names of hazardous ingredients and known hazardous decomposition products, with acutely hazardous ingredients listed first.  If there is no common name, then chemical names should be used.  This should include known sensitizers present in sufficient amounts to cause allergic reactions in sensitized individuals.

    •    Safe Handling Instructions:  This section should include appropriate precautionary statements concerning fire safety, work practices, ventilation, and personal protection.

    •    First Aid:  This section includes recommendations for emergency first aid.

    •    Other Statements:  If the product has any warnings, it should state it is not suitable for use by children.  All properly labeled art materials must carry the statement "Conforms to ASTM D-4236" or the equivalent.

    •    Sources of Further Information:  This must include referrals to a local poison center or 24-hour emergency number. It can also refer to the availability of Material Safety Data Sheets or other information.

FIGURE 1 - Sample Label
    •    Harmful if swallowed or inhaled.
    •    May cause anemia, nervous system or kidney damage, or harm to developing fetus.
    •    When using, do not eat, drink or smoke.
    •    Do not spray.
    •    Wash hands immediately after use.
    •    Should not be used by pregnant women.
    •    See Material Safety Data Sheet for further information.
    •    Conforms to ASTM D-4236.
    •    (Name, address, and telephone number of the manufacturer or importer or poison control center)

For Further Information

Written and telephoned inquiries about hazards in the arts will be answered by the Art Hazards Information Center of the Center for Safety in the Arts.  Send a stamped, self-addressed envelope for a list of our many publications.  Permission to reprint this data sheet may be requested in writing from CSA.  Write: Center for Safety in the Arts, 5 Beekman Street, Suite 820, New York, NY 10038. Telephone (212) 227-6220.

The CSA is partially supported with public funds from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and the NYS Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Training and Education Program.
Art Hazard News, Volume 17, No. 1, 1994

The Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act requires art and craft manufacturers to determine whether their products have the potential to cause chronic illness, and to place warning labels on those products that do.  The law required that the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) develop guidelines for chronic hazards, with the intent that all manufacturers follow the same guidelines. 

In Vol.17, No. 1 of Art Hazards News, we referred to the chronic hazard guidelines as being mandatory.  According to the final CPSC regulations, these guidelines are voluntary.  The chronic hazard guidelines include criteria for: 1) determining chronic health effects in adults and in children; 2) determining which chemicals in art materials can cause chronic adverse health effects such as cancer and reproductive effects; 3) determining how much is absorbed into the body (the bioavailability); and 4) determining acceptable daily intake levels for chronically hazardous substances in art materials.

Art Hazard News, Volume 17, No. 3, 1994

This article was originally printed for Art Hazard News, © copyright Center for Safety in the Arts 1994. It appears on nontoxicprint courtesy of the Health in the Arts Program, University of Illinois at Chicago, who have curated a collection of these articles from their archive which are still relevant to artists today.