Is Polymer Clay Toxic?
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I cannot tell you how many times I have gotten questions from people wanting to get into clay, and many of these questions deal with health and safety concerns. So I decided to seek out a professional answer.

When it comes to me, personally, I do think about health and safety quite frequently. If you are feeling a little skeptical about polymer clay and it's effect on your health, these are some very good precautions and practices you should get into the habit of doing:

:donut: Purchase a small toaster oven and timer for your polymer clay, that way you don't have to worry about cooking and baking in the same oven as you use for your clay.

:donut: Do not over-bake or burn your polymer clay, and only use the temperature and timing mentioned on the instructions.

:donut: Use latex or other gloves for handling your clay.

:donut: Bake in a well-ventilated room. Open your windows, turn on a fan, or open the door. I wouldn't suggest opening your oven and breathing in the plastic-infused air.

:donut: ALWAYS wash your hands after using your clay, and don't eat or drink around your clay.

:donut: Some people make ear plugs out of clay, but personally I wouldn't recommend it. Don't make plates or things to eat out of clay, either.

:donut: Don't use any supplies or tools on your clay that you also use for food. That includes piping bags and decorating tips as well as cookie cutters, knives, cups, etc. Keep one set of tools for clay and one set for the kitchen - don't ever interchange them.

Many of these tips I use myself, although I am guilty of not wearing gloves when I use it and I also haven't gotten myself a second oven yet - the funds don't allow it. But I DEFINATELY plan on getting one very soon.

It is up to YOU to keep yourself safe, and the decision on whether to use clay rests entirely on your preferences. Here is a fantastic article I found on the safety of clay off a website called "Bella Online" which can be found here: www.bellaonline.com

Enjoy.

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Is Polymer Clay Toxic?
Guest Author - Chris Franchetti Michaels

The question of polymer clay toxicity has been controversial within the polymer clay artist community. Scientific studies, package labels, and rumors create confusion over whether polymer clay may be hazardous to work with or even touch. It's true that polymer clay's two essential ingredients have been associated with environmental and health concerns. Here's a brief look at these ingredients, what the experts have to say, and whether you should be concerned about polymer clay safety.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Polymer clay is made primarily out of PVC, a hard plastic that's commonly used in construction and other industries. PVC is made from a chemical known to cause cancer, and its manufacture creates some hazardous byproducts that are released into our environment, including dioxin. It's believed that these substances can also be released when PVC is disposed of and begins to break down, or when it is burned. Since it's not biodegradable and usually not recycled, PVC also creates a general disposal concern.

Although PVC raises its own environmental and health issues, it's another ingredient in polymer clay - called phthalate - that has caused the most concern over safety.

Phthalates

Phthalates are plasticizers; they're what make polymer clay soft and workable. In recent years there have been serious issues regarding their use in children's plastic toys. Phthalates have been linked to a variety of health problems, including birth defects and neurological damage. With polymer clay, the question is whether dangerous levels of phthalates can enter the body through ingestion (such as when children place clay in their mouths), touch, or inhalation of vapors (especially during firing).

Scientific Studies

In July 2002, an environmental watchdog group called Vermont Public Interest Research Group, Inc., (VPIRG) published a study concluding that polymer clay was potentially hazardous. They conducted laboratory analysis of the two leading brands of polymer clay and found that both contained significant levels of dangerous phthalates. They also conducted experiments to determine whether polymer clay users were exposed to those phthalates. According to the study:

"The . . . lab found that, when prepared as directed, polymer clays could expose children and adults to significant concentrations of phthalates . . . from both handling the clays and breathing in the air contaminated with phthalates during the baking process." (From Hidden Hazards - Health Impacts of Toxins in Polymer Clays, Executive Summary, VPIRG, July 2002.)

As a result of their findings, VPIRG called for a moratorium on the use of polymer clay until further studies could be performed to confirm that the clay was not dangerous. They also asked for better labeling of clay by its manufacturers.

Soon after the VPIRG study was published, the Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc., (ACMI) published a press release challenging VPIRG's findings and restating its belief that polymer clay is not hazardous when used as directed. ACMI is a professional organization made up of art and craft materials manufacturers. This organization has provided their "certification" that some brands of polymer clay are "non-toxic".

In the press release, ACMI pointed out that the Consumer Product Safety Commission "has extensively tested samples of polymer clay for safety concerns . . . . [and] found that [it] did not contain any volatile organic compounds and that no acid gases were released if the clay was baked to 163o C (325o F)." (From Phthalates in ACMI-Certified Polymer Clays, ACMI, July 30, 2002.)

Should You be Concerned?

Unfortunately, we all need to make a judgment call about the safety of polymer clay and whether we choose to use it. We do know that there are millions of active polymer clay artists, and their clay doesn't seem to be sending them all to the hospital. If the clay were extremely hazardous, it would probably be more obvious.

That said, chemicals in polymer clay have proven to be hazardous at some levels and in some circumstances. Common sense tells us we should keep that in mind when using it. I personally wouldn't recommend allowing children to play with polymer clay unsupervised, and I think everyone - children and adults - should wash their hands thoroughly after handling it. Additionally, I think clay should be fired in a well-ventilated room.

You should also avoid over-heating clay or firing it for longer than necessary. The reputable jewelry-making supplies dealer Rings-n-Things provides this additional recommendation on its polymer clay information web page:

"If you seriously delve into polymer clays, you will probably want to invest in a second oven for convenience, if not for potential long-term health reasons. All of these polymer clays are non-toxic and well-tested, but it somehow seems foolish to be cooking food in the same oven in which you are daily cooking plastic." (From www.rings-things.com/POLYMER.H…, visited July 26, 2006.)

Understand that although the major brands of polymer clay are "certified non-toxic," this does not necessarily mean they are 100% safe. The non-toxic certification by ACMI is provided by an organization of manufacturers, which some argue equates a conflict of interest. It's probably true that the manufacturers don't want to stop making polymer clay; but they also don't want to be responsible for (and sued over) detrimental effects to people's health. They do have motivation to make sure their products are safe.

We should also consider the environmental health and safety implications of PVC production and disposal. On one hand, polymer clay only accounts for a small fraction of the PVC manufactured today, so its impact may be negligible. On the other hand, if you pride yourself on being environmentally-friendly as much as possible, polymer clay may not be for you.

Original source for this article can be found here: www.bellaonline.com/articles/a…
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Comments (58)
readykk6's avatar
readykk6|Hobbyist Digital Artist
Excuse me, can i have a list of non-toxic clay because I recently purchased a Fimo clay set and i do not want to risk my dogs or my own life.
Reply  ·  
Coyotes-heaven's avatar
Hmm. I always wonder why my neurological symptoms get way worse when working with clay.  More tingling, my hearing starts acting up, I get dizzy.  Coincidence?
Reply  ·  
monsterkookies's avatar
monsterkookies|Professional Traditional Artist
You never know! I honestly wish more research would be done on polymer clay safety, because with the amount of things I've been hearing, it can't all be coincidental, can it?
Reply  ·  
Whispersinthewoods's avatar
Whispersinthewoods|Professional Traditional Artist
I am a little late commenting on this, but I have worked with Polymer clay ( I make fairies) almost daily for about 13 years and last year was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am currently still in treatment for it and will be for several more years. Sadly, I have at least 7 other friends who also make fairies out of polymer clay and for almost as long as me who have also been diagnosed with cancer in the last year. I also lost another friend who made fairies three years ago to cancer. I know of others in the fairy/doll community too who were diagnosed but are not in my group of friends. I know the ingredients in polymer clay were changed in or around 2008/2009 and "safer" phthalates are now used but those of us using polymer for ten or more years were exposed to those earlier phthalates and frankly I am not sure I trust the "safer" ones anyway.
Reply  ·  
monsterkookies's avatar
monsterkookies|Professional Traditional Artist
Wow, thank-you so much for your input! It's been about a year since I last worked with polymer clay (a lot of stuff has come up, and I haven't been in the studio much as a result). I really appreciate you taking the time to add this - it will give people something to think about! 
Reply  ·  
Whispersinthewoods's avatar
Whispersinthewoods|Professional Traditional Artist
I am a little late commenting on this, but I have worked with Polymer clay ( I make fairies) almost daily for about 13 years and last year was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am currently still in treatment for it and will be for several more years. Sadly, I have at least 7 other friends who also make fairies out of polymer clay and for almost as long as me who have also been diagnosed with cancer in the last year. I also lost another friend who made fairies three years ago to cancer. I know of others in the fairy/doll community too who were diagnosed but are not in my group of friends. I know the ingredients in polymer clay were changed in or around 2008/2009 and "safer" phthalates are now used but those of us using polymer for ten or more years were exposed to those earlier phthalates and frankly I am not sure I trust the "safer" ones anyway.
Reply  ·  
stormcloud134's avatar
Im trying to scult a special topper for a wedding cake. I normally use polymer clay for my projects but I worry about the health risks with it being on the actual cake. Any suggestions on safe alternatives the will work??
Reply  ·  
monsterkookies's avatar
monsterkookies|Professional Traditional Artist
I've made a wedding topper before, and all they did was put it on top of a little plastic circle so that it wasn't touching the cake... and so it wouldn't get icing on it. XD I don't think they really cared if it touched the cake, though. Lol.
Reply  ·  
Forestina-Fotos's avatar
Forestina-Fotos|Hobbyist General Artist
This is very interesting, thank you.
I sculpt fairies and am trying to get better at them (over at my ~Forestina account), but I've noticed over the past few years, a couple of professional sculptors who have been diagnosed with cancer, or seem to have died younger than they should. Of course, it could be totally unrelated to sculpting, and probably is, but it has made me a bit undecided now about whether I want to keep sculpting to try to get to a professional stage. Maybe daily intensive use of polymer clay isn't such a good idea after all. But I really don't know. *sigh*
Reply  ·  
monsterkookies's avatar
monsterkookies|Professional Traditional Artist
I've thought about it a little bit, myself. I guess you can always wear gloves. :)
Reply  ·  
Forestina-Fotos's avatar
Forestina-Fotos|Hobbyist General Artist
The problem with gloves is that you couldn't work on the detail. Though I might certainly give it a try. Those thin surgical type gloves. :)
Reply  ·  
monsterkookies's avatar
monsterkookies|Professional Traditional Artist
Yeah, I know what you mean. When I am kneading large amounts of clay, I will sometimes wear gloves. But not for detail. It's just too finicky. >_<
Reply  ·  
sparrowcrazy's avatar
sparrowcrazy|Hobbyist General Artist
Is there some safe clay alternative without these harmfull chemicals? I'm rather catious when it comes to stuff like this... and I would really feel guilty for harming the enviroment. Actually I already do since I bought Super Sculpey before I read this. =/ I¨'ve looked around and all Polymer, Fimo and Sculpey seem to have the same problems... any alternatives then?=)
Reply  ·  
monsterkookies's avatar
monsterkookies|Professional Traditional Artist
Use a non-polymer clay? Such as natural earth clay that is airdry.
Reply  ·  
sparrowcrazy's avatar
sparrowcrazy|Hobbyist General Artist
Unfortunately earth clay isn't that good at sculpting small obejcts and details..=/ Not those I've found anyway..
Reply  ·  
monsterkookies's avatar
monsterkookies|Professional Traditional Artist
That's why I use polymer clay. :) I haven't died yet, if that makes you feel better... XD
Reply  ·  
CupcakeUnicornZ's avatar
CupcakeUnicornZ|Student General Artist
-Do you use your oven that you cook food in? also, is air-dry polymer clay different from oven bake clay? Thanks.
Reply  ·  
monsterkookies's avatar
monsterkookies|Professional Traditional Artist
Polymer Clay is completely oven baked - not air dry. :) And I do use the same oven for food as I do for clay, just not at the same time, and I air it out after I use it for clay. :)
Reply  ·  
CupcakeUnicornZ's avatar
CupcakeUnicornZ|Student General Artist
Thanks so much! My mom wanted me to research it and stuff because she was being a butt about if we ruin the oven. Also, I really like your creations from clay, they're a real inspiration. = )
Reply  ·  
monsterkookies's avatar
monsterkookies|Professional Traditional Artist
Well, if it makes you feel better - I'm still alive and feeling well, so the clay hasn't affected me. XD

Thank-you so much! I'm very glad to inspire you. <3
Reply  ·  
AznDramaFrk94's avatar
O.o Oh my gosh! I never knew it was toxic... or kinda toxic I guess.
Thanks for this :) I would probably break all the tips if I didn't read this.
Reply  ·  
ALINAFMdotRO's avatar
ALINAFMdotRO| Artisan Crafter
They say on wiki that FIMO doesnt have phthalates...
Reply  ·  
AznDramaFrk94's avatar
Oh. So I should buy FIMO then? Well... if I do decide to use clay. :D
Reply  ·  
ALINAFMdotRO's avatar
ALINAFMdotRO| Artisan Crafter
I use FIMO. :-?? If you are really worried it might have negative effects, search online the ingredients and other info about the product. I found stuff about FIMO on wikipedia. :)
Reply  ·  
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