Crayola’s “Safety” Commitment Ignores Exposure to Toxic Coatings

Crayola Seems Concerned about Safety

You would think that a company that appears to obsess about the safety of kids using their products would at least warn adults about the exposure of children to toxic coal tar sealers. Coal tar sealers are the black coating still used in many parts of the country on parking lots, playgrounds, and driveways. Nope, that warning is nowhere to be found, yet the list of warnings otherwise looks like it was written by a team of product liability lawyers:

“ATTENTION: The cutting edges of scissors are sharp and care should be taken whenever cutting or handling.”

“Choose safe outdoor areas, away from traffic and dangerous equipment.” 
“Health professionals caution against using recycled toilet paper tubes for arts & crafts projects because of potential fecal contamination.”

Citizen Voiced Concerns Over a Year Ago

Image from a Crayola Lesson Plan for Teachers


However over a year ago, former Springfield (MO) Councilman (and coal tar gadfly) Dan Chiles wrote the following letter. He was concerned that the extensive safety precautions failed to mention the risks to children using sidewalk chalk on toxic coal tar sealed surfaces.

Kids just don’t use the playground or driveway surface like a canvas, but they get a whole lot of skin contact and at a level where off-gassing of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) from coal tar sealers can be quite potent and trigger asthma attacks.

Just look at the collage assembled above from social media accounts of parents gleefully and obliviously photographing their children for a contest run by Crayola using the hashtag: #SidewalkSelfieSweeps!

 How big a concern is this? There is a lot of data on this but here are some summary comments.
A toxicologist studying the effects of coal tar sealers for asphalt said that there are likely many Americans with cancer from this source and don’t even know about it. He, Dr. Spencer Williams (then at Baylor and now at the CDC) also said,
“with the concentrations you see on a coal tar sealed pavement you would get a significant exposure with a single hand to mouth motion.” Link

As a result this product has been banned in a few states and several cities.

Now a year later, there has been no change to Crayola’s website. We would like to know why that is. Wouldn’t you?

What was Crayola thinking?

Likely an oversight by someone who put it in the “tin hat” bin for crazy consumers. Or maybe it was lost in the mail. What other explanation is there?

Don’t you think Crayola could use their reach and influence to help educate teachers and parents to this danger? I hope so. Maybe they could use this hashtag:


April 27, 2016

Dear Crayola,

I picked up my nephew’s box of Crayola Washable Sidewalk Chalk and noted on the back that the product “is designed for use on concrete or asphalt sidewalks and driveways”. On your website you say “Crayola considers the safety of children our top priority.”

Are you aware that children are using your product to draw on top of toxic waste known as coal tar sealant? There are a growing number of authoritative, peer reviewed scientific studies showing clearly the grave danger to anyone who comes in contact with PAH-laden coal tar sealants.

I have enclosed several compilations of critical studies for your review. This includes a very recent study from Oregon State showing that the problem is worse than previously thought.

In a few minutes, you will see what some of us have noted for years: Toxic coal tar sealants are a terrible and growing threat to persons who are exposed to it and the problem is much worse for children who, as we know, come in intimate contact with this known poison while drawing pictures on top it.

I look forward to hearing from you with your questions and comments.


Dan Chiles
Springfield, Missouri

United States Geological Survey

Coal Tar Free America Blog

City of Springfield Coal Tar Compilation