Are Non-Toxic Children's Paints Harmful If Swallowed?

Just because an art or craft product is made for a child’s use doesn’t mean it’s safe. Reading labels, which contain ingredient and safety information, is important when choosing paint supplies for children. Use caution, even if a label reads non-toxic. The word non-toxic in the product description doesn’t mean the paint is 100 percent free of harmful substances. Non-toxic also doesn't mean ingesting the paint won't still make your child sick, even if the ingredients aren't life-threatening or won't cause long-term health problems.

Paying Attention to Labels

Since some paint supplies contain toxic substances that are harmful if swallowed, product labels make it easier to identify those that are safe for children to use. Look to see if a product includes warnings on the label that the paint is harmful or fatal if swallowed. If the label carries the phrase -- conforms to ASTM D 4236 -- the product has been accurately labeled for chronic health hazards. Children's paints that also carry the AP (approved product) seal of the Art and Creative Materials Institute (ACMI) are certified non-toxic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics publication Healthy Childcare. Paints with this seal on the label are the safest for children to use because they don't contain enough of any ingredient to be toxic or cause chronic health problems. Do not use products bearing the ACMI's CL (caution label) seal, as these contain ingredients that are toxic and unsafe for children to use.

Toxic Effects

Any paint supply evaluated by the ACMI will carry a CL label if it contains ingredients potentially harmful to children. While some art paints contain highly toxic metals, others contain chemical solvents such as methyl alcohol that can cause blindness if swallowed or lead to kidney and liver damage, points out Green America. Children tend to be more vulnerable to these and other poisons because of their smaller size and higher metabolisms. The immune and organ systems of young children aren’t fully developed either, putting them at greater risk for problems.

Proper Paint Supply Care

Paint supplies can become contaminated with bacteria or mold as they age or if you don’t store them according to product instructions. Taking proper care of art paints prevents against health problems that toxic mold and bacteria can cause. Although spores from mold are generally inhaled, children can be exposed to mold when they swallow paint contaminated with mold. Ingesting mold and bacteria can cause vomiting and diarrhea or an allergic reaction leading to sinus or respiratory problems. Always store paint products in the original containers with the labels listing the ingredients and care instructions. Mark each container with the date of purchase so you know which paints to use first. Rather than allowing your child to dip paint brushes or his fingers directly into a pot of paint, remove the amount of paint you think he will need to prevent contaminating the rest of the paint in the container.

Emergency Response

If your child swallows any amount of art paint, even if it’s labeled non-toxic, call 1-800-222-1222 -- a national toll-free number that will connect you with the poison control center in your state. Have the product label in front of you when you call as the poison control hotline will ask you to read the label to know what, if any, potential toxins your child has ingested, notes the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. You also will need to give your youngster's age and weight, how long it has been since she swallowed the paint, if she has vomited and if you have administered any form of first aid. Indicate, too, if she has any current health problems.

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