Reading Label Warnings
on Art Materials

By Michael McCann, PhD, CIH

Warnings on a product label should be your first alert as to hazards of the product. You should also get a Material Safety Data Sheet on the product.

The Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act of 1988 (LHAMA) requires art and craft manufacturers to determine whether their products have the potential to cause chronic illness, and to place labels on those products that do. This includes industrial materials such as screen printing inks, plastics resins, ceramics materials, etc. if the products are sold in art supply stores or other walk-in locations where consumers can purchase them, if the manufacturer advertises them as suitable for making art, or sells them to schools. If they does not meet these requirements, but are hazardous, they would still have to be labeled with their identities and hazard information under OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard.

A proper warning label under LHAMA must have the following components:

1) A signal word to tell you the extent of the hazard. DANGER is the most serious, followed by WARNING and CAUTION respectively. DANGER is used for products that are highly toxic, corrosive or extremely flammable. WARNING or CAUTION are used for substances that are less hazardous. WARNING is also used for products that only have chronic hazards.

2) A list of potential hazard, in order of descending severity, giving the known significant acute and chronic hazards under reasonably foreseeable use of the product. This section should also specify the type of hazard. A rubber cement containing hexane, for example, should state "May damage central and peripheral nervous system by inhalation or skin contact." There must also be a warning that the product is "Extremely Flammable."

3) A list of the common or usual names of hazardous ingredients and known hazardous decomposition products, with acutely hazardous ingredients listed first. If there is no common name, then chemical names should be used. This list should include known sensitizers present in sufficient amounts to cause allergic reactions in sensitized individuals. In the above example, the rubber cement should state "Contains n-Hexane."

4) A list of safe handling instructions should include appropriate precautionary statements concerning fire safety, work practices, ventilation, and personal protection. For the rubber cement, the statements would include such statements as "Avoid inhaling vapors or skin contact. Use only in well-ventilated areas. When using, do not smoke, drink, or eat." There would also be fire precautions.

5) A first aid section includes recommendations for emergency first aid. For the rubber cement, this would include: "If swallowed, do not induce vomiting. Call Physician Immediately."

6) Sources of further information could include referrals to a local poison center, 24-hour emergency number, availability of MSDSs, and other information.

7) The label must carry the statement "Conforms to ASTM D-4236" or a similar statement.

8) If there are warnings, then the label must also state that the product is not suitable for children.

©  copyright Michael McCann 1995

This article was originally printed for Art Hazard News, © copyright Center for Safety in the Arts 1995. It appears on nontoxicprint courtesy of the Health in the Arts Program, University of Illinois at Chicago, who have curated a collection of these articles from their archive which are still relevant to artists today.