Art and Craft Materials In Schools: Guidelines for Purchasing and Safe Use

Guidelines for Purchasing and Safe Use of Children's Art and Craft Materials

These guidelines for the purchase and safe use of art and craft materials are intended as a reference for school staff, instructors, parents, and others who participate in art and craft projects with children.  Refer to the Art Smarts! Fact Sheet for quick tips on safe use of art and craft materials.

image of colored pencils

Today’s safety and labeling laws are aimed at ensuring that art and craft products primarily designed or intended for use by children age 12 and younger are safe when used as directed. Some art and craft products marketed for the general public may be inappropriate for children because they contain toxic chemicals that can be ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through the skin. It is assumed that with appropriate labeling, people over the age of 12 will understand written information regarding health hazards and can use art materials as directed. Children age 12 and younger may not understand hazards associated with use and cannot reliably use art materials as directed; this may result in potentially dangerous exposure to ingredients.

California Law and Purchasing for Use by Students

California law (Education Code §32064) prohibits the purchase of art or craft materials containing toxic substances for use by students in grades K-6, and requires that art products purchased for use by students in grades 7-12 are properly labeled to inform users of long-term (chronic) health risks and instructions for safe use. These purchasing requirements apply to schools, school districts, and governing authorities of private schools.

This law also requires the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) to develop a list of art and craft materials that cannot be purchased for use in grades K-6 (Education Code §32066). This list is a resource to assist schools in complying with the purchasing requirements.

Although not required by law, avoiding art materials that appear on the OEHHA list when purchasing for use by students in grades 7-12 is a good precautionary measure. Teachers and students should carefully read and follow instructions for safe use.

  • Kindergarten – 6th Grade
    Items to be purchased must not contain a toxic substance. A list of products that cannot be purchased for use by students in K-6th grade is attached to these guidelines, or available at the OEHHA website.
    If an item to be purchased does not appear on the list, the purchaser must ensure that the item is properly labeled* and that it does not bear acute or chronic health hazard labels.
  • 7th Grade – 12th Grade
    All products to be purchased must be properly labeled* to inform users about potential chronic health hazards and safe use instructions.

Beyond Legal Requirements Regarding Purchasing by Schools

Listed products should also be avoided when requesting donations or instructing families on the purchase of art and craft supplies. Donated supplies that are not properly labeled for health hazards (see next section) should be discarded, and supplies that bear health hazard labels should not be directed to K-6th grade classrooms. Schools are encouraged to inventory existing art and craft supplies and remove materials bearing health hazard labels from K-6th grade classrooms.

There is another California law (commonly known as Proposition 65) that requires warnings regarding exposures to chemicals known to the state to cause cancer, birth defects, or other reproductive harm.  A typical warning says: “This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer (or birth defects or other reproductive harm).

Federal Law and Product Labeling

Federal law imposes certain toxicological review and labeling requirements on art and craft materials. The Federal Hazardous Substances Act (Sec. 23 [15 U.S.C. §1277]) requires all art and craft product labels to include information about acute and chronic health hazards and safe handling instructions as applicable, and a statement of conformity to ASTM D-4236, the mandatory art product health labeling guidelines that specify these requirements. This law also prohibits children’s products, including children’s art materials, from containing an accessible hazardous substance.

Federal law does not define ‘non-toxic’ and does not prohibit use of this term on art products that do not require cautionary labeling. Some products labeled ‘non-toxic’ can cause harmful effects when used in an unintended manner.

Labels to Look for when Purchasing Art and Craft Materials

All art and craft products to be purchased must bear a statement of conformity to ASTM D-4236 to ensure proper health hazard labeling in accordance with federal law.

ASTM Caution Required

Materials bearing these health hazard labels must not be purchased for use by students in K-6th grades.

Caution Required

If a product has been found to contain a hazardous substance, the label must contain a signal word to call attention to the hazard, such as DANGER, CAUTION, WARNING, HAZARD, or POISON. The label may also contain the statement “Keep out of reach of children”. These are clear indications that the product is not appropriate for use by children age 12 and younger.

picture of a stack of colored pencils

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, another federal law, limits the allowable concentration of lead in children’s products to 0.01%, or 100 parts per million. Paint intended for most consumer products and household purposes is subject to a limit of 0.009%, or 90 parts per million.