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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Health and Safety in Arts Education: Health and Safety

Health, safety, and source reduction information for artists and art educators, including theater arts.

Health Effects and Safety Information


This section provides current research and information on long- and short-term health effects (for students and instructors) associated with traditional art education practices that use hazardous materials. The Essential Links section provides links to safety guidance.

Health hazards in art education

Asbestos, heavy metals, organic solvents, and other toxic ingredients found in some art and craft materials generate risks for the artists and students using them. Frequently used without knowledge of risks, these can be manipulated by students with disregard to health or safety issues. The nature of art encourages students to explore non-traditional uses in order to create unusual pieces. Unidentified and unknown risks associated with these hazardous materials can also pose "take-home" risks for family members.

All materials used with children must be compliant with the Labeling of Hazardous Art Materials Act (LHAMA). Use of these materials often results in contact with mouth, eyes, skin, hair, clothing, and food. Exposure occurs through inhalation, ingestion, and skin contact. Dust, powders, vapors, gases, and aerosols are readily inhaled. Long-term damage can result from silica or asbestos in clays.

Risks increase in younger students whose developing bodies have less tolerance for exposures to hazardous substances because of their smaller sizes, higher metabolic rates, immature immune systems, and rapidly developing bodies. Younger students, with their increased hand-to-mouth activities, may also ingest more toxic materials leading, to larger exposures than those of adults using the same products.

While teenagers and adults better tolerate exposures to hazardous substances, the materials in secondary schools and adult art studios are often more hazardous and less regulated. Exposure is often prolonged. Cadmium, asbestos, lead, and benzene are sources of known carcinogens. Extended exposure while completing art projects heightens the risk.

Art forms and associated hazards

Art Form Material or Process Toxic Exposure
Batik wax, dyes fumes from wax, hazardous materials in dyes
Ceramics clay.glazes silica, lead, cadmium
Enamling enamels arsenic, cadmium, cobalt
Forging hot forge carbon monoxide, aromatic hydrocarbons
Glassblowing coloring metal fumes
Jewelry making reclaiming of gold cyanide, lead, mercury
Lithography acids hydrofluoric acid
Painting pigments cadmium, cobalt, lead
Photography various baths acid, sulfur dioxide, hydroquinone
Printing solvents mineral spirits, toluene, xylene
Sculpture (plastic, stone) dusts silica, asbestiform materials, ketone peroxides
Stained glass soldering lead and zinc chloride fumes
Woodworking strippers toluene, methyl alcohol

Essential Links