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Over 50% Children’s Art Supplies Found to Release Toxic Metal Substances 7 Tested Crayon Models Contain PAHs Posing Safety River 50% Children’s Art Supplies Found to Release Toxic Metal Substances 7 Tested Crayon Models Contain PAHs Posing Safety Risks

  • 2021.05.17

Colourful crayons and fingerpaints are common art materials for children. When they are drawing or painting, they may rub their eyes or face with their hands smeared with paints, or may even ingest the paints by mistake, increasing the risk of ingesting harmful substances from the paints. The Consumer Council tested 19 models of children’s art materials and found that the aluminium migration level for 1 model exceeded the EU Toy Safety Directive’s limit by almost 5 times. Over half the crayon models (7) were found to contain Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) levels exceeding the limit of the relevant German safety standard. With this in mind, besides selecting suitable children’s art supplies with care, parents should also pay heed to the way their children uses the materials and make sure they wash their hands thoroughly after use, in order to reduce the risk of ingesting harmful substances. The Council urges manufacturers to reduce the level of harmful substances in products to as low as possible, and to include on the packaging warnings and the names of the preservatives and embittering agents, to safeguard the health of young children.

The test included 19 models of children’s art materials including 12 models of crayons and 7 models of fingerpaints, most of which were labelled as suitable for ages above 3. Crayon models contained 6 to 12 colours each, with prices ranging from $10 to $59 per set. Fingerpaint models ranged from 4 to 6 colours each, priced at $42 to $148 per set. Test results revealed that the highest priced ($59) and second lowest priced ($12) crayon models, as well as the highest priced ($148) and lowest priced ($42) fingerpaint models, all received an overall rating of 5 points, indicating that the price does not always reflect quality.

According to the definition laid down in the EU Toy Safety Directive, crayons and fingerpaints for children both fall under the toy category. Test items included the migrations of certain elements referencing the EN71-3 test standard from the EU Toy Safety Directive, the PAH level of the crayon models, microbiological content of fingerpaints and their embittering agents according to the EU toy safety standard EN71-7, while the labelling information was also examined.

10 Models Found to Have Migration of Toxic Metals

The test results revealed that 10 models showed migration of toxic metals, amongst which the aluminium migration level of 3 models exceeded the limit of the updated EU Toy Safety Directive which will come into effect in May this year. Aluminium and their compounds are often used in daily necessities. While their acute toxicity is relatively low, long-term excessive intake could cause chronic diseases such as aluminosis and dialysis encephalopathy syndrome.

Out of the 12 crayon models, 4 were found to have an aluminium migration level from 110ppm to 33,000ppm, amongst which the blue crayon of 1 model had the highest level (33,000ppm), exceeding the EU Toy Safety Directive’s limit (5,625ppm) by almost 5 times. The EN71-3 migration limit for aluminium will be updated on 21 May this year and further tightened to 2,250ppm. Based on this requirement, another model’s blue crayon which contained an aluminium migration level of 2,600pm will also exceed the new migration limit. As for the 7 models of fingerpaints, 2 models were detected with aluminium migration levels of 130ppm and 1,200pm respectively, both not exceeding the limit (1,406ppm) of the EU Toy Safety Directive. However, the blue fingerpaint of 1 model with the highest detected aluminium migration (1,200ppm) will exceed the limit of the impending revised limit (560ppm).

Zinc has a stronger toxicity and excessive intake will cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea. Excessive intake in the long term might even weaken the immune system. The test found that 2 crayon models contained zinc migration levels of 110ppm and 340ppm respectively, both below the limit (3,750ppm) of the EU Toy Safety Directive.

PAHs in Crayons

The main ingredient of crayons is derived from petroleum, and PAH is a known harmful substance in petroleum. Therefore, PAH tests were conducted on the crayon models. The results showed that all models were not found with the 8 restricted PAHs laid out in the EU REACH Regulation. However, Germany’s voluntary GS Mark certification poses a tighter requirement on PAH levels in toys, with limits imposed on the total level of 7 PAHs in addition to the 8 restricted PAHs in the REACH Regulation.

In the 12 models of crayons, 8 were found to contain 1 to 4 types of PAHs. Amongst these, naphthalene is a possible carcinogen which is volatile and could be inhaled; phenanthrene and pyrene are allergens for the skin and respiratory tract, and may cause rashes or allergic reactions with prolonged contact; whereas benzo[ghi]perylene is hazardous to the aquatic environment and ecosystem.

From the test results, 7 models were found to contain naphthalene ranging from 0.2ppm to 1.2ppm, of which the 2 models with the highest levels (1.2ppm) exceeded the limit of the Germany safety standard (1ppm); 5 models contained pyrene levels ranging from 0.74ppm to 8.3ppm, amongst which the model with the highest level (8.3ppm) exceeded the total PAH limit (5ppm) established by Germany; 4 models were found to contain phenanthrene with levels ranging from 0.22ppm to 1.0ppm, all meeting the requirements of the German safety standard; in addition, benzo[ghi]perylene were detected in 5 models, with levels ranging from 0.24ppm to 3.2ppm, all exceeding the limit (0.2ppm) of the German safety standard.


Young children generally use their fingers or hands to directly apply the paint. Therefore, EU’s Toy Safety Directive sets up a requirement that approved embittering agents must be added into fingerpaints, to ensure children will spit out the paint due to its unpleasant bitter taste in the event that they accidently place the paint into their mouth. The results showed that over half (4) of the tested models did not contain approved embittering agents and failed to comply with the requirements of the   EN71-7 standard in the EU Toy Safety Directive.

Toxic impurities and nitrosamine were not found in any of the tested fingerpaint models, while the microbiological content and pH values of all models also complied with the EU requirements. However, upon inspection of the packaging labels, 4 models were found to lack the required standard product information or warnings respectively. The Council urges suppliers to promptly improve the product labelling.

When choosing and using children’s art materials, consumers should pay heed to the following:

  • Carefully read the instructions on the packaging and select the appropriate category based on the child’s age, muscle development, etc. For example, children under 3 years old are still under development and may have difficulty in controlling their small muscles. Therefore, it is recommended to select pens with a thicker barrel, or art supplies specially designed for young children, to allow an easier grip;
  • When selecting fingerpaints, try to fully understand the possible allergens they contain. Accompany children while they are painting –– not only it is a great family activity, but it will also lower the risk of children ingesting the paint;
  • Consider purchasing crayons with a plastic barrel which will reduce children’s direct contact with the crayons and lower the risk of ingesting harmful substances accordingly. Parents should also remind young children to not draw on their skin with crayons;
  • When using crayons, if parts of the crayon has chipped, clean and discard the fragments promptly to prevent young children from inhaling or eating them. Make sure children wash their hands and clean the desk thoroughly after use;
  • If any skin or physical discomfort occurs after using art supplies, discontinue use immediately and seek medical help.

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