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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 could 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 at 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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:iconwhispersinthewoods:
Whispersinthewoods Featured By Owner May 21, 2015  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.
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:iconwhispersinthewoods:
Whispersinthewoods Featured By Owner May 21, 2015  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.
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:iconstormcloud134:
stormcloud134 Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2013
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??
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Jan 30, 2013  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.
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:iconforestina-fotos:
Forestina-Fotos Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2012  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*
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
I've thought about it a little bit, myself. I guess you can always wear gloves. :)
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:iconforestina-fotos:
Forestina-Fotos Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2012  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. :)
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Jun 28, 2012  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. >_<
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:iconsparrowcrazy:
sparrowcrazy Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2012  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. =/ IĘ've looked around and all Polymer, Fimo and Sculpey seem to have the same problems... any alternatives then?=)
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Mar 30, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Use a non-polymer clay? Such as natural earth clay that is airdry.
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:iconsparrowcrazy:
sparrowcrazy Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Unfortunately earth clay isn't that good at sculpting small obejcts and details..=/ Not those I've found anyway..
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
That's why I use polymer clay. :) I haven't died yet, if that makes you feel better... XD
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:iconsparrowcrazy:
sparrowcrazy Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Haha well I'm happy for you.^^ Thought I believe the problems were birth defects and cancer not that you'll drop dead.;) I'm not chancing with either but my main concern is that I won't use product that have components hazardous to the enviroment.. we have more than enough of those out there, already.=/

=)
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
The computer you are currently typing on isn't environmentally friendly, either. The paint on your walls is comprised of chemicals and synthetic colourings. The adhesive used to hang your wallpaper is synthetic. The envelopes you lick to close them, the sodium fluoride in your drinking water, the plastic toothbrush that you'll need to eventually replace, the chemicals used to treat our drinking water to make it drinkable and usable again, the chemicals and preservatives and dyes in our food, soaps, laundry detergent, clothing, make-up... it's all around us, and it's all around you. The most we can do is try our best to be as environmentally friendly as possible, but the closest we can get to being ultimately environmentally friendly is to... well... not exist. O____O I'm not about ready to jump off a bridge to save the environment, to be quite frank.
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:iconsparrowcrazy:
sparrowcrazy Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2012  Hobbyist General Artist
Lol well true but personally I try to cut down on as many things a possible. Taking a few of your examples there.. Ecological paint made from natural things, trying to avoid wallpaper, I don't lick envelopes, we filter the water or drink natural water, avoid ready food, natural ecologial soap without any chemicals, same soap for laundry instead of detergent, don't use makeup. ;) Then I suppose I'm guilty of quite a few things anyway, like the computer, clother etc.. but those are things the modern community can't be without.. computer for school, clothes... well obviously, toothbrush.. well you know.;)


I really try to do as much as I can to make the risks as minimal as possible.=) Not saying that everyone has to live as me.. but this is my road to take.^^

Good to hear the phalates are gone though.^^ That's a step forward.=)
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Haha, sounds like me - except for the paint and wallpaper part. :XD: I have no idea what is in our paint. We're renting an apartment in an old Victorian house, so who knows what is in those walls or on them behind the layers and layers of old paint and wallpaper...

I try to be as eco-friendly as possible, mostly to make up for the fact that I use polymer clay. I try not to throw any of it out - even scraps. I want to use the scraps to make a strange colour of clay, mix it with lint, and make "Dust Bunnies". Hahahahaha.
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(1 Reply)
:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
In recent years, Phthalates have been removed from polymer clay and most polymer clay is now Phthalate free, which is good. But its base is still Polyvinyl chloride, aka PVC. No, it isn't the most environmentally friendly medium out there, but we live in a very synthetic world - a lot of mediums aren't the most eco-friendly. Glazes, sealants, glue, adhesive, acrylic paint, synthetic fibres and fabrics, artificial dyes, chemically treated materials, and mass produced findings... none of it is good for the environment. As you know, I don't have much of an alternative to polymer clay - nothing is as workable and good for detail, as you said. If there was, I'd want to know about it!
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Mar 31, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Understandable. :)
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:iconcupcakeunicornz:
CupcakeUnicornZ Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012  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.
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Mar 16, 2012  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. :)
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:iconcupcakeunicornz:
CupcakeUnicornZ Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2012  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. = )
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2012  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
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:iconcupcakeunicornz:
CupcakeUnicornZ Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2012  Student General Artist
Okay, thanks. xD Also, how do you bake your clay, do you have a special technique or do you just bake it on a tile or something. Psst..I also like tentacles. :3
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
I bake most of my stuff on a tile - the three dimensional stuff I bake in a loaf pan lined with 100% cotton fabric. :)
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:iconcupcakeunicornz:
CupcakeUnicornZ Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2012  Student General Artist
like your miniatures on a tile or in the pan? xD I'm so annoying!I'm asking everyone about everything about Polymer Clay. My mom doesn't want me setting the house on fire...>.<
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Mar 17, 2012  Professional Traditional Artist
Lol, I doubt you'll set the house on fire at such low temperatures... XD

I do both. If the object is round or three-dimensional, I put it in the pan with cotton fabric. If I put it on a tile, the clay will develop a flat spot on the bottom, which is okay if the item is flat in the first place, but not really okay if the item is round.
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(1 Reply)
:iconazndramafrk94:
AznDramaFrk94 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2010
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.
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:icongemdedude:
GemDeDude Featured By Owner May 5, 2011   Artisan Crafter
They say on wiki that FIMO doesnt have phthalates...
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:iconazndramafrk94:
AznDramaFrk94 Featured By Owner May 6, 2011
Oh. So I should buy FIMO then? Well... if I do decide to use clay. :D
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:icongemdedude:
GemDeDude Featured By Owner May 7, 2011   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. :)
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:iconazndramafrk94:
AznDramaFrk94 Featured By Owner May 7, 2011
:XD: Wikipedia is awesome for information. :thumbsup:
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
It's more of a precautionary thing. It has been proven that it's really toxic. :P
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:iconazndramafrk94:
AznDramaFrk94 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2010
OHH... I see. >.<
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2010  Professional Traditional Artist
It's always good to practice good (and safe) working habits, though!
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:iconazndramafrk94:
AznDramaFrk94 Featured By Owner Dec 27, 2010
:XD: Yep!
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:iconalkhymeia:
Alkhymeia Featured By Owner Feb 28, 2009  Professional Artisan Crafter
Grazie :)
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:iconkacihpfanatic:
KaciHPfanatic Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Student General Artist
when i saw this article, i was a bit shaken up, thinking i did something i wasn't supposed to do, but i didn't! ^^; nice tips though, you should write more articles like this :D your polymer clay tips helped me a lot and saved a bunch of time :D
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:iconrapsody:
Rapsody Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009
Very helpful!
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:iconhotmetal53:
hotmetal53 Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009
Phthalates may very well not be toxic in the literal sense, but that doesn't mean they are safe. The problem is that they are endocrine disrupters. And the, uh "science" of toxicology is ill equiped to deal with that.

In this sense phthalates are very much like bisphenol-A (or BPA), a major ingredient in polycarbonate plastic. In both cases the chemicals act like a synthetic estrogen. Both chemicals can royally screw up the sexual development of a baby. And they can do this at extremely low concentrations, far below the levels recognized as toxic.

I recommend reading "Safety Dance over Plastic" in the September 2008 issue of "Scientific American". It explains about the subtleties of endocrine disrupters versus toxic chemicals. And points out the difficulty if characterizing an endocrine disrupter when it may have a stronger effect at a low exposure level than when the exposure is thousands or millions of times as great. It also showed how a single small exposure to BPA could affect 3 generations. Presumably that could also be true for phthalates.

I still work with polyclay. But I'm very careful to wash my hands afterwards. (Creating art with gloves on? I don't think so.) Plus I don't plan to have children. And I really don't know if washing is enough.
--
Allen Brown [link]
Where it is a duty to worship the sun it is pretty sure to be a crime to examine the laws of heat. ---John Morley
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Professional Traditional Artist
That's a VERY good point - that issue might definately be worth looking into. Thanks for the heads up! I don't use gloves either, and I don't plan on having any kiddies...
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:iconhotmetal53:
hotmetal53 Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009
I don't think your art would be as good if you wore gloves. But I would be delighted to be proven wrong.
--
Allen Brown [link]
No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism. --- Sir Winston Churchill
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Professional Traditional Artist
I agree... I hate gloves! :(
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:iconkaikaku:
kaikaku Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
I read that Scientific American article too! I always have a hard time explaining to people that polymer clay isn't necessarily safe but that it's not exactly "toxic" either.

Washing isn't really enough if you just do a quick wash. I think that's one of the big problems... I've heard it's easy to have the stuff stick to your hands.

Of course, even if you don't work with polymer, most of us are absorbing lots of phthalates.
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:iconhotmetal53:
hotmetal53 Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009
It won't kill you. But it might make your future child sterile. Like it could make your boy into a girl, well partway anyway.

I strongly suspect Camelback water bags are, or were, made of PVC with phthalates to make it soft. For that matter, plastic notebooks are likely sources. That plastic wrap you put over your food to keep it fresh in the refrigerator?

Yes, it's all around us. Even for those of us who don't wear makeup.
--
Allen Brown [link]
Always forgive your enemies -- Nothing annoys them so much. ---Oscar Wilde
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Professional Traditional Artist
So true. It's freakin' everywhere! I'm typing on plastic keys right now - hahahaha! Bloody hell. Dishsoap works really well to get that polymer residue of your hands, especially the stuff that likes to stick.
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:iconhotmetal53:
hotmetal53 Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009
Your keyboard is probably ABS, a rather different plastic. AFAIK it doesn't contain phthalates at all. Or BPA for that matter. I'm not aware of any hazards from ABS.

Another very effective cleaner is the kind sold in auto parts stores, waterless hand cleaner. There are several brands. I prefer the kind that includes citrus and does not include pumice. Those cleaners remove amazingly well. But then they leave their own residue behind. So I usually wash with soap afterwards.
--
Allen Brown [link]
Socialism is like a dream. Sooner or later you wake up to reality. --- Sir Winston Churchill
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Professional Traditional Artist
Ohhhh I should check that out! ;)
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:iconvihmavesi:
vihmavesi Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009   Photographer
I never thought it would do any harm to bake the clay things in the same oven where I cook food.. Is it really dangerous? Makes me worried.. :(
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:iconmonsterkookies:
monsterkookies Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Professional Traditional Artist
Like I said, it isn't dangerous... it's just a precautionary measure. I bake my clay in my regular oven, too.
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:iconkaikaku:
kaikaku Featured By Owner Feb 25, 2009  Hobbyist General Artist
The way I see it... we don't know what the long-term use of phthalates may do... the ones in polymer clay don't cause any immediate ill affects but over the course of 50 years we may find out they cause problems. There are also lots of different phthalates, some are known to cause problems, others not so much.

The thing is... phthalates are in so many products that it's not even funny. They're in -skin lotions-. I wouldn't be surprised if they were in certain food packaging, honestly. Children's toys often contain phthalates. They're in lots of things, and the CDC has tested many Americans (most of them non-polymer artists I'm sure) and found significant phthalate exposure in our populations. I think people are sort of missing the point when they act like polymer clay is deadly toxic... if you're really worried about phthalates there are a lot of places we're absorbing them--and polymer clay actually seems to cause relatively minor exposure when used correctly.

Personally, I don't think the oven use poises a huge problem because only a small amount of phthalates are released, even if you burn the clay. I have a clay-only toaster oven that I bake in, but I will bake larger pieces in the normal oven. I don't wear gloves but I'm making an effort to clean my hands crazy well after I use clay. From what I've read, you only absorb a tiny amount of phthalates through your skin, so direct ingestion is probably the most significant exposure you get from use of polymer.
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