View Full Version : Good News, Bad News for Pastel newbie

11-29-2005, 10:01 PM
:clap:Good News! A set of 18 Daniel Greene Unison portrait pastels and dvd by Wendy arrived today from Madison Art! They were a priced higher than Jerry’s or AWS but the dvd was free and I had paid $80 for the Daniel Greene “Jim” VHS tape 3 weeks before.

:eek: Bad News! When I opened the package the box containing them had a rather large ‘Warning Cancer causing Agent’ label splayed across the front of the box.

:rolleyes:Good News! The package was the porch when I brought my wife home from cataract surgery so when I opened the box she couldn’t see well enough to read the label.

Wait! Let me rephrase that so I don’t see too heartless.:angel: It was Bad News my wife needed the cataract surgery at all but kind of fortunate she couldn’t read the label. (She has this problem with carcinogens so otherwise I would have had to keep and use all art supplies down in the barn and it has just gotten too cold for that.)

A copy of the label is online at MadisonArt. I am posting it below

Any constructive suggestions on where they should be used would be greatly appreciated.

Here is a copy of said labeling:

California Prop 65 Warning
chemicals known to the state of California to cause birth defects, and reproductive harm.

Warning cancer agent!
Inhalation may produce cancer exposure may cause harm to developing fetus.
Inhalation may cause lung damage.
Skin contact may cause allergic skin rashes.
Avoid prolonged contact Do not spray apply. Wash hands immediately after use. Use locally exhausting hood appropriate for the operation. Use NIOSH-certified mask for dusk or mists. Do not use at home or in home studio. See MSDS for further safe use information. Avoid using if pregmant (sic) or contemplating pregnancy. Keep out of reach of children. For further information contact a poison control center or call (800)233-2404

”Do not use at home or in home studio”:confused:

Any constructive suggestions on where they should be used would be greatly appreciated.:o

Paula Ford
11-29-2005, 10:16 PM
:eek: OH Gosh! You have got to be kidding! That's awful...maybe one of us needs to have a long phone conversation with someone at Unison tomorrow.

I'll call if you'd like


11-29-2005, 10:55 PM
I remember having a similar heart attack when I got my portrait set a year ago, bearing the same sticker. If you take them out of the package and put them in your studio pastel box, it won't bother you as much. I've happily used them in my home studio. I have an air filter in there anyway so I'm not concerned.

11-29-2005, 10:55 PM
I heard this before when their new box of orange came out. Is this that same color box or another one??? If I understood the person who told me, they didn't get a satisfactory response from the Richeson company - the importer for Unison. I did ask another pastel maker about this, and was asked not to mention the name as the industry is really a rather small one, and this particular person doesn't like to knock the competition, but in a nut shell the pigments used to make orange can come from a number of different mines in different countries. Some (less expensive) do have the negative properties that are listed. This manufacturor doesn't use that source so they are safe. If the Unisons are being made with the less expensive pigments, then shame on them. Paula, if you get a satisfactory answer I'm sure we would all be interested in hearing it.

Thanks for bringing this to everyones attention, and thank you Paula for volunteering to look into it.


11-29-2005, 10:56 PM
Oh, for heaven's sake! This is another example of certain states' going completely overboard in tarring and feathering almost everything on the planet as potentially dangerous. This isn't Unison's problem, but the state of California's.

Granted, if one consumed or inhaled this stuff and its dust day after day, non-stop, for a lifetime, there's a good chance one might develop problems, but come ON! How many people do you know who used pastels in their art work who actually suffered such consequences? True, a few asthmatics and allergic types find themselves sensitive to the dust....in that case you drift to another medium...it's just good sense. But for the average user? Throw out the warning label and enjoy your new pastels!

This makes me wonder what Californians dare to use in their artwork...after all, even oil paints and watercolors can be dangerous if used as transfusion materials and one could have deadly results if one tried to eat too much cadmium red acrylic on their toast! Scary stuff! :D

I might add that having bought nearly all the Unison colors over time, I've never seen such a warning on any of them, nor have I had a problem with any of them, including the oranges. I'll be waiting to see what Paula finds out...it would really surprise me if Unison were taking that huge a risk to save a couple bucks on their orange pastels...especially since they charge more for those very same oranges...or did...which should imply BETTER contents, not worse!

Shane Keene
11-29-2005, 11:27 PM
I agree with Khadres on this one. If you inhale enough of any kind of dust it's eventually going to cause lung problems. The state of California is absolutely crazy about it's hazardous labeling policies. I'm surprised they don't post drowning hazards on drinking fountains.

Let us know if you discover anything useful, Paula


11-29-2005, 11:39 PM
Note to self: Do not use satire when posting on WC.

Sorry everybody. I did not mean to cause an uproar. I just thought it was an odd warning which I had not seen before I had ordered the set.
(Although I wasn’t really kidding about not wanting to explain it to my wife)

To me it was kind of like getting a fruit basket for Christmas and it having a warning that said “do not ingest”.

2nd note to self: Go buy materials to make Travelling Studio Pastel Box
3rd note to self: Go back to skulking

Deborah Secor
11-29-2005, 11:58 PM
Warning: do not use this product in California!*


*satire intended...

11-30-2005, 12:45 AM
Note to self: Do not use satire when posting on WC.

Sorry everybody. I did not mean to cause an uproar. I just thought it was an odd warning which I had not seen before I had ordered the set.
(Although I wasn’t really kidding about not wanting to explain it to my wife)

To me it was kind of like getting a fruit basket for Christmas and it having a warning that said “do not ingest”.

2nd note to self: Go buy materials to make Travelling Studio Pastel Box
3rd note to self: Go back to skulking

Ohhhh, no ya don't! No more skulking for you, wolfie! You've come out of the bushes and now we know who y'are, so you might as well hang around with the rest of us crazies!

I agree...definitely an odd warning to put on an art supply box and if you have a fearful type wife, best get rid of that thing before her eye surgery...which, incidentally, I hope goes very well indeed! Anyway, enjoy your lovely new Unisons...they're among my very favorites and not one of mine has done anything the least bit evil to me yet!

Paula Ford
11-30-2005, 09:44 AM
Will get back to you as soon as I get a hold of someone.

This is gonna be interesting.


11-30-2005, 09:45 AM
Yes- that would be the Calif. warning- for the rest of us- well, I have lost additional friends recently from cancer- this makes 6 in the last 3 years- none of them had ever touched a pastel or any other art supply. Like Clinton 'Just don't inhale' :rolleyes: I used to be a strict 'organic produce vegetarian only sort' and yes, I was healthier, but as my dad used to say- 'we all gotta go sometime' so might as well take precautions but enjoy life while you can.... I have extreme asthma, and oddly enough, the pastel dust does NOT bother me- and I gave up a year ago trying to wear a mask... have to conclude I get a bunch more cat fur and house dust than pastel dust in my lungs. Just try not to eat them....

11-30-2005, 10:11 AM
Would be interesting to know if the Unison pastels used cadmium and cobalt as base pigments. If so, that would induce the use of the warning. Not familiar enough with all the makes to know what each uses.

As I understand it, just as in oils, the use of cadmium and cobalt can be dangerous and precautions need to be used in handling them. That is why I also don't lick my watercolour brushes to make a point when I have cadmium and cobalt colors on my pallette.

Some makers of pastels do not use these carcinogenic pigments. I know that Paul DeMarrias does not, and Mount Vision posts this on their web site:

health and safety ( http://www.mountvisionpastels.com/health.htm )

11-30-2005, 12:30 PM
my goodness, what a scare!! but i agree with the rest, take a few precautions, like not using the sticks with some dip when you run outta ruffles!! but really, some average things, like washing hands before eating, and not blowing the dust around, and i dont' see an issue. but i am sure it was quite a surprise to find that letter in your new pastel box!! wow!

and paula, i too am curious as to what you find out, good of you to offer that. and paula, your sig. line is wonderful!!! way to go, girl, looking great!

11-30-2005, 12:57 PM
Sooz- I am happy my cataract can't be operated on due to my retina damage- i think- my mother in law got a black eye from hers- she said it gave her a new perspective (before surgury) on her artwork... claimed to everyone my mild mannered father in law gave her a black eye, which nobody believed.... I bet we are all in much worse danger from underarm deoderant- can't live with it, can't live without it!!

Oh, that is the beautiful set with the CLEAR TOP that is so cool- that I ABSOLUTELY DON'T NEED- NOPE, NOT ME....

Paula Ford
11-30-2005, 01:45 PM
Ok folks...I called Jack Richeson & Co. and got a very nice gentleman on the phone.

He basically said ANY pastel ever made should have precautions on it. It's like the lady who got burned with hot coffee in McDonalds many years ago and now McDonalds has labels that read "Hot" all over everything. Use common sense. If you start to cough, wear a mask. If your skin gets irritated on your hands, use gloves. Everyone has to admit that it just isn't healthy to breathe pastel dust!

He did mention that the cadmium and cobalt are NOT healthy and to "just take precautions." We didn't get into any detail. Anyone can probably do a search and come up with a million reasons to stay away from those compounds.

California has the most stringent laws regarding chemicals so the warning label is the worst case scenario and is meant to definately get noticed so that people will take the proper precautions.

We spoke about "Do not use at home or in home studio." We both giggled. I told him THAT IS WHAT WE PASTELISTS DO. Again, he said they just wanted the label to get noticed and acknowledged!

I think they just went overboard, but you know how California is ;)

Better to be safe than sorry.


(P.S. If anyone wants to call them, the toll-free number is 800-233-2404.)

11-30-2005, 02:02 PM
Sooz, thank you for your kind thoughts for my wife’s cataract surgery. She really did have it done yesterday morning and the pastels were really waiting for me on the porch when we got home.

My wife is doing well, she has to wear an eye patch at night which caused me to stomp around going “aargh, me matey” all night but did not seem to have the same effect on her.
She is feeling pretty good this morning, we went into town for breakfast and I will be taking her back to the eye doctor this afternoon. So far the biggest complication seems to be she “can’t wear eye makeup”.:confused:

Paula, thank you for offering to call the Unison people. I have a Missouri accent and if I tried to talk with someone from Northumberland we would probably need an interpreter.

2tcreative, as for question of if the Unison pastels used cadmium and cobalt as base pigments the MadisonArt online warning also contains this message:

“Please keep in mind that these are designed for professional artists, and may contain cadmium, chromium, and manganese pigments.” (bold print my doing)

Now I could start a thread about the ethics of MadisonArt even selling Unison pastels to someone like me, who they were not designed for… but I won’t.

Oops, just updated on-line and see Paula has already called. Thanks for the information Paula.

11-30-2005, 02:43 PM
Yup, every box of pastels I get is labeled galore. Poor Diane Townsend put a sticker on each pastel. I am used to it.

We are required to have those signs on all kitchen and bathroom faucets too, not. :D

I think our gas pumps have more stickers than other states.

Then there are all the warning signs as you enter stores like Wal-Mart and grocery stores. I think shopping in CA may cause cancer too.

Yup, we are a funny bunch out here. We are over precautious about our art supplies but will let anybody run the state, experienced or not. Must be all those suntan beds casting off who knows what. You should see the signs in those places. (People are too busy to get a real tan in CA so they are way popular, lol).

:p What can I say? I was born here and I love it.


11-30-2005, 02:59 PM
Anyone who can star in 'Jingle all the Way' cant be too bad :p
I sure hated his other movies though :eek:

11-30-2005, 03:56 PM
Thank you Paula! The answer you got is what I was expecting, but it is good to have it reinforced. It's also good to know that other manufacturers are willing to let the public know exactly what they are using in their pastels, and attempt to use more healthy components.

Now everyone:
1. Go to your studio
2. lay out all of you pastels
3. put the grittiest paper you have on the easel
4. get a cup of coffee/tea
5. apply heavily the pastel to paper and then blow it off
6. breath deeply
7. dip pastel into coffee/tea & take a bite

OK I'm joking, but it would appear the CA legislators seem to think artists aren't very bright!


Shane Keene
11-30-2005, 04:26 PM
Thanks for looking into this for us Paula. It sounds to me like a liability warning more than anything else as you would probably have to literally ingest your sticks on a regular basis before suffering any ill effects from them.

It's too bad though. Cadmium red is my favorite flavor!


11-30-2005, 04:51 PM
Gee Peggy- that is exactly how I paint! LOL....

11-30-2005, 05:20 PM

It's good to see a brand advertising clearly about possible danger.
It's just a matter of not going histeric about it.
The air that we breath in the city and the food we eat and the things we drink are not that healthy anymore also, so....we just have to take the needed cautions like has been discussed here.
Hurray for the companies that are honest !!!



11-30-2005, 08:11 PM
There aren't that many cadmiums still in use for pastels from what I hear. As to cobalt and manganese...who knows? But I bet we would be amazed to find out what all else we use day to day that contain one or another toxin...you can't avoid everything at all times...the trick is to use products as intended and with proper hygiene, etc.

It's rather like those funny plastic barrel thingie that come inside bottle of pills of one kind or another? I mean, they have "DO NOT INGEST" and "DO NOT SWALLOW" all over the silly things, but are there REALLY that many folks who would mistake it for just another non-matching pill??? Anyone that stupid should probably have a keeper to protect them.

11-30-2005, 09:55 PM
I called one of my "inside information" people - LOL - and asked a few questions today. One question was about Sennelier pastels and you can read that answer in the thread titled "Schmencke or Sennelier" - just go to page 3.

The other question I had was concerning this matter. This is what I learned:

There are only three manufacturers that still use the heavy minerals that are supposedly a danger.
1. Unison
2. Great American
3. Diane Townsend
If this is an issue for someone they can choose to use other brands or take appropriate precautions when using these.

It was to comply with California's crazy overly protective laws that Unison is placing the warning on their products. As most of you have stated here, and my informanent agrees with, almost all artists are exposed to some "dangerous" products but to what degree of danger is questionable. Very questionable! Just think of the old masters who lived long lives and were exposed to worse things than the heavy minerals - like lead and arsenic! As Jose pointed out, our major cities are more toxic than the pastels. Perhaps California should post a warning on the interstate road ways leading into Los Angles "Do not inhale while in Los Angles" :D

Common sense folks, common sense - but then is appears that is exactly what we who have written here have - common sense.


12-02-2005, 02:04 PM
Gee Peggy- that is exactly how I paint! LOL....

Me too! Except for the bit about dipping my pastel into the cup of coffee and having a bite. ;)

12-02-2005, 02:07 PM
I might add that having bought nearly all the Unison colors over time, I've never seen such a warning on any of them!

I own exactly four unisons, which I bought from Jerry's open stock individually, but each individual package had very noticable cancer warnings on the packaging.

12-02-2005, 02:26 PM
I love cadmium and cobalt colors and use them in oils all the time. I'm sure many of my pastels have them too. But regardless.....We cannot assume that just because they don't have cadmium or cobalt pigments, that the pigments they DO have are safe to ingest. It's always best to err on the side of caution. I've seen artists do many careless things with harmful materials.


12-02-2005, 02:29 PM
When I first started buying pastels, the warnings on Unisons scared me half to death- but I got over it LOL...... what with cancer, heart disease, and alheimers in my close gene pool, and the stuff I used to handle in labs in school for prof's doing research, what's a little Cadmium..... tastes like chicken :D

12-02-2005, 02:37 PM
Sending out such an all-purpose note with any and every package of art materials is scaremongering, unhelpful and ridiculous. What use to pastellists is the warning "Do not spray apply"?? :D

I have never received a health warning on any of my pastels and I own quite a few Unisons (all purchased in the UK). I would like to know which of their colours are the potentially hazardous ones. Hopefully I can find a website which gives me this information in a relaxed and non-hysterical fashion ...