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Earth Day reminds artists to conserve

Tuesday is Earth Day. For artists, it is an annual reminder to be conservative with the use of art supplies and to promote materials safety when children use art supplies.

We all are reminded of safety concerns where pesticides, fertilizers, cleaning materials and chemical additives are regularly used. But we don’t normally give a thumbs -down to wax colors or paint for children.

Parents and teachers know the value of doing art for their little ones, but using the same materials for children that adults use is not safe. If you’ve ever read the ingredients on a permanent marker, or smelled it, you know they’re not healthy. Many that I use contain toluene or xylene, both which are known cancer-causing agents. They’re not something you want your kids using.

Many art supplies contain toxic ingredients. When inhaled or swallowed, they can be dangerous for kids. Children are especially prone to the effects of chemical toxins — making them more susceptible to problems.

Colored pens, pencils, pastels, paints (spray and brush), colored clays and glazes all contain pigments that are made of chemicals and naturally-occurring Earth minerals, such as cobalt and cadmiums. Both are dangerous and can poison a person if ingested. Even food colorants can cause cell damage for little ones.

Adults need to be aware of the dangers for themselves as well, but especially if youngsters are among household members or visitors where artwork is being done.

Symbols displayed on safe, pigmented supplies should show a circle surrounding a capital “AP” and “ACMI,” which is the acronym for Art & Creative Materials Institute Inc.  If there are chemicals or pigments that are questionable or contain known toxins, it will have a capital “CL” in an octagon and includes the ACMI acronym.

If a product has an AP label, it is considered safe. If it has a cautionary label, then look into its formulation before purchasing it and refer to whether or not it’s safe to have around children and animals.

Other cautionary notes are helpful at this point. Brushes should never be held in the mouth. Brush bristles hold materials even after solvents have been used to clean them, and chemicals can be transferred through the lips as well as orally.

Most expensive brushes are made using animal hairs and attached with glues inside a ferrule atop a wooden handle that is then painted. Some cheap imports are painted with dangerous paints, and that is not listed anywhere on a label. So the entire brush should not be placed in the mouth. And caution does not end with paint and brushes.

Petroleum-based products pose dangers. I do not use any petroleum-based supplies at the University of Jamestown. Anyone who does and teaches using those supplies is required by Occupational Safety & Health Administration to store combustible solvents in locked metal, fire-proof cabinets away from exploring hands. Instead of using oil paints, we use acrylic, latex and watercolor paints. There still is the danger of ingestion from brushes, but inhalation dangers are not a concern.

So as we learn to be aware of Mother Nature and our human impact, we also need to be aware of the role humans have on humans where art supplies are concerned. We love making beautiful and creative works, but we always want to be safe while making art.

If anyone has an item for this column, please send to Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.