The use and storage of student art materials can affect indoor air quality (IAQ) throughout the school. Many art supplies are toxic and can easily become airborne in a classroom and get inhaled, irritating lungs and bronchial tubes. Others contain ingredients that can be ingested or absorbed through the skin and cause serious health problems. Materials of concern include clay, paint, permanent markers, pigments, varnish and lacquer, acid, ink, solvents, glues and adhesives. Many paints and other art and craft supplies contain VOCs. Exposure to VOCs can cause eye, nose, throat and skin irritation, headaches, shortness of breath or cough, new or worsening asthma and fatigue. Long-term exposure can damage the liver, kidneys and central nervous system and even lead to cancer. Lead, often found in pigments, oil paints, stained- glass solders and ceramic glazes, can cause developmental problems in children. Some art clays contain talc that is contaminated with asbestos. Teachers should request Material Data Safety Sheets (MSDS) for all prospective art materials, and choose the ones that are safest.
Art rooms should be properly ventilated. The ventilation rate for art rooms should be 15-20 cubic feet of outside air per minute (cfm) per occupant. Contaminated air from art activities should never be circulated into other parts of the building. Local exhausts and fume hoods should be used to remove pollutants directly from their sources in the art room to the outside so they are not spread into the indoor air.
To protect the health of students and staff, good purchasing, safety, handling and storage practices should be used in art rooms:
- Have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for any liquid or chemical used
- Have a hazardous response plan in place for dealing with chemical spills and accidents
- Be sure that all products are labeled properly and that label instructions on proper usage, dilution and disposal are carefully followed.
- Substitute less hazardous or non-hazardous materials when possible
- Use fume hoods and local exhaust as necessary
- Isolate contaminant producing activities or operations
- Use moist premixed products rather than powdered ones
- Keep lids on containers when not in use
- Store supplies in a separate area, away from main classroom area where possible. Storage areas should be well ventilated.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Question: What problems related to art supplies have you found during a schoolwalkthrough inspection?
Answer: During our walkthrough, we found a lot of unlabeled art supplies in regular classrooms.
When the school nurse asked us to investigate complaints of headaches from students and staff in the K-2 wing, we found that loose caps on large cans of rubber cement used for an art project were the source of the problem.
An art teacher at our high school sent her students outside to do some spray painting. She didn’t want to turn on the exhaust fan in her room because it made too much noise. Unfortunately, the area the students chose to do their painting was directly in front of two air intakes. Our TfS Team was called in to investigate complaints of odors throughout the building.
Question: Is there an organization that certifies art products to be non-toxic?
Answer: The Art and Creative Materials Institute (www.acminet.org/) is a non-profit association of manufacturers of children’s quality art materials. The AP (Approved Product) Seal appears on certain packages and containers of children’s art materials, indicating that they are approved as non-toxic.
Art and Creative Materials Institute
CT DPH Leaded Ceramic Glazes Advisory:
National Institute of Health, Keeping the Artist Safe: Hazards of Arts and Crafts Materials:
EPA Facts on Lead:
EPA Facts on Volatile Organic Compounds:
US Consumer Product Safety Commission website section on Arts and Crafts Safety: