When art materials pose a health risk to children
Brought to you by the National PTA
You're pleased that your school district offers studio art as part of the school curricula. It's a great way for your children to express their creativity, expand their imaginations, and develop an appreciation of beauty. Imagine your shock when a safety survey of your school reveals that some art room supplies contain toxins that could pose a health threat to your children.
The main culprits are lead, which is often found in artists' paints, inks, and other arts and crafts materials, and solvents, which are contained in rubber cement, permanent felt-tip markers, and aerosol spray paint. Other harmful chemicals, including some pesticides, also may be found in art materials.
Children are particularly susceptible to these toxins because their bodies, especially their brains and nervous systems, are still developing. An inhaled or ingested chemical has a more concentrated effect in a child's body because it has less mass than an adult's. Also, children may not be as consistently careful as adults when working with art materials.
How can we protect children from harmful exposure to potentially toxic materials in the art room?
In 1988, the United States Congress passed the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act, which mandates warning labels on those art materials that pose a chronic health hazard. A statement saying the material is inappropriate for children must accompany the warning. Despite the law, infractions continue to happen, particularly from small manufacturers and foreign companies, according to the Center for Safety in the Arts (CSA), a national resource center for information on health and safety in the visual and performing arts.
CSA does not wish to imply that all art materials are unsafe. In fact, the center notes that a list of more than 2,000 safe art materials for children in grades K-12 was published by the California State Health Department in the 1980s
To help make children's art experiences at home and at school safe and productive, CSA published the following recommendations for parents and teachers:
- Control what materials enter the home or classroom. Purchase only those products that do not have warning labels and that carry the statement, "Conforms to ASTM D-4236." This statement is a requirement of the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act.
- Keep adult art and hobby materials out of reach. These materials are typically much more toxic, and pose a much greater risk to children than to adults.
- Supervise all art activities. An adult should always be present and should make sure that all materials are carefully stored away when not in use.
- Encourage cleanliness and thorough clean-up when working with art and craft materials.
- Make sure that the child does not eat or drink while using art and craft materials.
- Prevent children with open cuts or sores from working with art materials, or make sure any such cuts and sores are well-protected.
- Note whether a child is having an adverse reaction to products that are being used. Remember that individual children may react differently to the same materials.
- Have available the telephone number of your regional Poison Control Center, in case a child accidentally swallows a product. Keep the product handy for label information.
- Take special precautions with children who have allergies, asthma, or other physical or psychological limitations by discussing with a physician the type of activities that must be either limited or eliminated. A parent should inform the physician of the types of arts activities and materials to which the child is being exposed both at home and in school.
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