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Are Phthalates in Polymer clay a risk to your health?

There are some controversy about Polymer clay and whether it contains plasticizers that may be a danger to your health. The stuff in question are called Phthalates, which are plasticizers that makes the clay soft and easy to work with before cured.

Some of these plasticizers are associated with potential health risks for children and pregnant women in particular. In the 1980 The PIRG – Public Interest Research Group stated that polymer clay was a hazard to your health when handled, inhaled or digested.

When polymer clay is cured and accidentally burned, the PVC – Polyvinyl chloride in the clay brakes down and releases toxic hydrochloride acid gas. According to PIRG this has a chronic effect on your health.

On the other hand ACMI – Art & Crafts Materials Institute in Boston state that these toxic fumes have no chronic effect on your health. Just turn of the stove, leave the room and air it out. Clay baked according to the manufacturers guidelines, are of no health risk.

Polymer clay has been thoroughly tested by ACMI and by CPSC – Consumer Product Safety Commissions. They concluded that there are no acute toxicity concerns and not a chronic hazard concern even when assuming a large (24 mg) daily ingestion of polymer clay.

AMCIs certification program:
AMCIs certification program states that no hazardous level of any ingredients is permitted in any art material product evaluated as non-toxic in the AMCI program. Art materials that are labeled ASTM D-4236 are tested and certified as harmless to adults.

The standards for children are AP (approved product), which mean that the product is safe for children, or CP (certified product)which means that it has been tested by ACMI but has yet to receive final certification. These products are not toxic to adults, but may be a health risk for children. If you are worried about whether the clay brand that you use is safe for you and your kids, check the label on the clay package.

In 1990 it became mandatory under federal law that an artist material must bear a hazard label if it is not certified as non-toxic. Polymer clays have today no hazard label. They would, by law, have one if they were of any danger to your health.

Restrictions on use of certain phthalates took effect in 2009 in the EU and U.S.state of California. And polymer clays are reformulated with less toxic plasticizers, to meet the new standard. All Polymer clay brands are now free of hazardous Phthalates.

You can find a lot of web sites that writes about polymer clay safety and phthalates, but the majority of these are written before 2009.

All polymer clay brands are now free of hazardous Phthalates.

You can find a lot of web sites that writes about polymer clay safety and phthalates, but the majority of these are written before 2009.

When baking clay:
As mentioned above, burnt polymer clay gives up toxic fumes. It is not easy to burn though, if you follow the curing instructions on the package, so this will likely be of no problem for you.

When it comes to baking clay in your stove, this is not of any health risk to you, if you clean your oven on regular basis. It may smell a bit though, and for some that may be irritating to mucus membranes and eyes. To avoid this, leave the room while you cure the clay, and air out both oven and room thoroughly afterwords. You can also place a roasting pan over the clay pieces when you bake them. This will prevent residue and fumes in the stove.

If you still are a bit concerned, consider buying a clay oven. These are made particular for baking polymer clay.

If you still have doubts:
Use common sense! Like everything else, things can be good in small amounts, but bad in large amounts. If you work with Polymer clay daily, it doesn't hurt to be a little bit cautious, if you only do it once in a while, don't worry.

Here are however some easy precautions you can take:

- Use surgical gloves while handling the clay. This not only protects your skin, but also reduces fingerprints on your beads. I find that my hands get very dry from handling the clay, and gloves will prevent that also.

- Use a protective mask when you heat clay with a heat gun.
With a heat gun, it is easy to burn the clay, so do not go to close, or heat the same place to long.

- Wash your hands when you have handled polymer clay.

- Don't let children handle clay unsupervised.

- Don't put food in or on polymer clay. This is not because the clay is toxic, but because it is porous and difficult to clean. It will grow bacterias which is not particularly good for your health. Use glass, if you want to make a bowl or something. You can then put the clay on the outside of the bowl, and still see the pattern. It will have to be glued on though, as Polymer clay will not stick to other materials in the long run.

- And, of course, needless to say, do not eat clay.

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