Health and safety labels

Health-related labels on art materials sold in the U.S. must conform to certain standards, by law. Here’s an explanation of symbols and acronyms you’ll see on labels.

• Many art and crafts materials carry seals from the Art and Creative Materials Institute, a private association whose 220 industry members contract for toxicological evaluation.

According to ACMI, its AP seal “is found on products that contain no materials in sufficient quantities to be toxic or injurious to humans or to cause acute or chronic health problems.” The CL seal “is found on art materials for adults that are certified to be properly labeled for any known health risks and is accompanied by information on the safe and proper use of such materials.”

The two seals shown here are replacing other ACMI symbols (including older-style “AP,” “CP,” and “HL,” with variations). For details on ACMI programs and some basic health and safety guidelines, go to their website at acminet.org.

ASTM D4236 is a standard published by the (non-industry chaired) “artists paints” subcommittee of the American Society for Testing & Materials. As the standard itself declares, “Since knowledge about chronic health hazards is incomplete and warnings cannot cover all uses of any product, it is not possible for precautionary labeling to ensure completely safe use of an art product.”

“Conforms to D-4236” on an art material label does NOT mean the product is “non-toxic.” Rather, it means:

• the material has been evaluated by a toxicologist for acute and chronic toxicity;
• the label names the ingredients identified as presenting a chronic health hazard, if any;
• a product presenting a chronic health hazard comes with safe use instructions.

LHAMA, the federal Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act, governs hazard labeling nationally. Its intent is that art materials should be labeled to warn consumers of potential chronic (long-term or slow-emerging) hazards. LHAMA transformed ASTM D4236 from a voluntary standard into a mandatory rule. LHAMA is enforced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

How to use labels? There’s honest disagreement about the adequacy of hazard labels. Treat label information for what it is: the bare minimum required by current law.

Words like “Warning,” “Caution,” “Harmful if swallowed,” “Use with adequate ventilation, “Avoid skin contact” alert you to the presence of toxins. Request Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) from makers to identify product contents. Products change, standards change, knowledge improves – so stay informed.

Your own judgement is the most important ingredient of all. Remember: just because something is on the market does NOT mean it’s safe.