As mentioned on our The Unleaded Pencil page there is no lead in the writing core of a “lead” pencil. The core is made of non-toxic graphite and does not contain lead.
As a result of increased concern for the safety of different consumer products such as toys or art products from China, we often receive inquiries regarding the potential for exposure to lead in pencils. The only relevant concern regarding potential sources of lead in pencils is in the lacquer or paint used to finish the pencil.
First, lead is a naturally occurring compound that is contained in many different raw materials used in many industries to produce many consumer products. Exposure to high levels of lead through various means can have damaging health impacts.
Next, lead content in all consumer products has been under strict regulation for many years by the regulatory authorities of different governments around the world. Generally, these standards are similar from country to country but there are some variations in regulations and content standards around the world.
In the United States the governing body on this issue is the Consumer Product Safety Commission or CPSC. Current CPSC lead content standards dictate that lead used in paints or lacquers used on consumer goods must not exceed 90 PPM. These are levels well below the limits considered to be dangerous established by years of scientific research. Producers that manufacture to these standards are making pencils and other products that are well within these safety limits.
The CPSC itself does not carry out mandatory testing though they do dictate the standards and often the testing protocols and will investigate complaints about a product by consumers or consumer watchdog groups. Failure to produce to CSPC standards is a violation of the law, and any product found to be non-compliant is subject to penalties including immediate recall from distribution channels and additional fines. This is in addition to any potential liability issues a company may face if proven that a non-compliant product it markets causes any actual health issues for consumers who purchased that item.
Within the pencil and other related industries such as toys and art materials in the United States, as well as in all other major production regions, industry associations work to establish testing and certification procedures to assist manufacturers in assuring that products they produce meet the government standards related to lead content as well as other potential toxins. Testing is generally performed by independent third parties not under the control of the manufacturers.
Pencils are generally certified to the ASTM D4236 standards or in Europe to EN71, part 3 standards to assure compliance with the law. The U.S. Writing Instruments Manufacturers Association has it’s own PMA Seal of certification for toxicity purposes which includes a higher level of testing of key materials with potential toxin content and is a voluntary program it’s members choose to participate in.
If pencils you buy do not contain one of these certification marks there is some risk that there may be lead or other toxins at levels higher than allowed by law. However, lack of such a mark does not mean the pencils are necessarily unsafe. To be sure you should always look for one or more of these marks on the pencils you buy. Our Pencils.com Store includes the various certifications applicable to any given pencil within our store. For more detailed product safety on pencils check out our Product Safety and Certification mark section here.
Finally, here are some links to additional external resources:
Writing Instrument Manufacturers Association
Consumer Product Safety Commission