Lead Safety

On this page you will find the links you will need to access more on the history of lead and its toxicity.

The John Cavanaugh Foundation promotes all artists who work
with lead, to do so as they would many other artist materials.

Proper handling, clothing, masks and/or breathing apparatus', gloves, and goggles should be utilized, with countless artist materials deemed unstable, lead is no different.

Artists are advised to properly protect themselves, and those in their company, while working with lead.

Hammering, pounding, and beating lead will release lead's molecules into the environment. These molecules should be protected against with proper clothing, gloves and masks.

Any soldering, melting, machine cutting, and applying bonding materials or liquids to lead's surface, will cause it to be bio-available and thereby toxic. Proper care should be taken to protect against fumes and/or particles that become air-born.

Lead sculpture is NOT a danger, to the collector or viewer.



The history of lead's toxicity is notorious and lengthy. Lead has been poisoning people for centuries. Early Romans drank wine boiled in lead pots, and added lead to recipes touting the sweetness of it. Hippocrates noticed lead's affect on people and warned of it, but no one listened. Many years later, Ben Franklin, warned people of lead's health affects, and again no one listened. Over the centuries numerous people have raised the flag on the toxicity of lead… People are listening now.

Hence gout and stone afflict the human race;
Hence lazy jaundice with her saffron face;
Palsy, with shaking head and tott'ring knees.
And bloated dropsy, the staunch sot's disease;
Consumption, pale, with keen but hollow eye,
And sharpened feature, shew'd that death was nigh.
The feeble offspring curse their crazy sires,
And, tainted from his birth, the youth expires.

Description of lead poisoning by an anonymous Roman hermit, Translated by Humelbergius Secundus, 1829.
See the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website.


How Lead Sculptures Affect Viewers

The blurb below most accurately describes how lead sculpture will affect the viewer, and when lead is most toxic.

"Harmful effects do not occur if an organism is isolated from a metal or if the metal is not bioavailable. For example, picking up a lead sculpture causes exposure but provides no adverse effects unless, unhappily, one drops the sculpture on one's foot."

"The risk of lead poisoning is determined by its concentration and biological availability, the duration and form of exposure, such as inhalation, ingestion, or contact. Naturally occurring throughout the environment, lead is present in all plants, animals and human body tissues. Poisoning occurs only at high concentrations and after an organism is exposed for a sufficient time to a form of lead which makes it biologically available to the organism."

From Mineral Council of Australia website.

The John Cavanaugh Foundation's decision to use text from the Australian Mineral Council - reflects only our appreciation for the frank language used in describing lead's toxicity.

On Dartmouth University's site, science writer Emily Sohn, provides a piece that concisely lays out some of lead's toxic history, and what is now being done to prevent the American populous from contracting lead poisoning.


The New York University's public radio (WNYU) show Studio 360 aired a show on the dangers of art for artists called Toxic - Risk - Danger, in March 2005. Well worth a listen.

"Host Kurt Andersen and the choreographer Elizabeth Strebd explore the dangerous sides of creating dance, music, and sculpture.

The life of the average artist is not known for a sense of security. Most will gain little money, status, or recognition. They may dream of these things, but what many artists should be yearning for more than anything is… health insurance."

You can download this show from the following link: http://www.wnyc.org/studio360/show030505.html


U.S. Government

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)

Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)



Health Hazards Manual for Artists : Fifth Revised and Augmented Edition
by CIH, Michael McCann PhD

This fully revised edition of the practical classic on health hazards for artists is available yet again, with all pertinent information on safety and labeling and new chemicals brought absolutely up to date. It clearly highlights the potential dangers for artists in such fields as: painting, photography, ceramics, sculpture, printmaking, woodworking, textiles, and many more. It also has an important - and newly revised - section on health hazards for children working with art materials. Dr. McCann presents the latest principles governing the labeling of products. This important book belongs in every studio, in every art class, and in every art-reference library.

Artist Beware
by CIH, Michael McCann PhD June 1, 2005)
NOTE: Artist Beware, Updated and Revised : Being released June 2005

Is your art killing you? Artist Beware may well be the most important book an artist can own or that art instructors can recommend to their students. The book includes analyses of how gases, liquids, vapors, dusts, and fumes can harm the artist, and studies all aspects of safety in the studio, including the care, handling, and disposal of materials, the use of various kinds of protective equipment, and possible physical hazards.

The Artist's Complete Health & Safety Guide
by Monona Rossol

The safe use of art or craft materials requires awareness and training, since a host of toxic chemicals and environmental pollutants are often found in these materials. Designed to help art workers and teachers comply with health and safety laws, this book is the definitive guide to using these potentially toxic materials safely and ethically.

ART HARDWARE: The Definitive Guide to Artists' Materials
by Steven Saitzyk © 1987

Excellent book on art materials. Modern and informative. It is difficult to find this book. There is a definite need to see it re-published. http://www.trueart.info/art_hardware.htm

Safe practices in the arts & crafts: A studio guide
by Gail Coningsby Barazani

Out of Print w/ Limited Availability - Publisher: College Art Association of America (1978) TO LOCATE try Alibris.com.


Websites with Links, Resources, and Indexes

Art & Creative Materials Institute, Inc.

Arts, Crafts, and Theater Safety

Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence

City of Tuscon: Health and Safety in the Arts

Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology

Environmental Virtual Campus

North American Art Materials Trade Association

Rhode Island School of Design

Rochester Institute of Technology

True Art Information

University of Chicago Health in the Arts Program

Vermont Safety Information Resources

Westfield State College