Pencils and Pencil “Lead”

Julie Weber Is This A Poison

Toxicity:  Pencil “lead” is not actually lead.  It is safe and non-toxic

Expected symptoms:   No symptoms are expected from a pencil put in the mouth or sucked or chewed on, even if some of the pencil was swallowed.  However, if a large piece of the pencil is swallowed,  it could cause choking.  Call 911 if a person is choking.

What to do:  If a child sucks or chews on a pencil, wipe out mouth with a wet wash cloth and give the child a drink of water.

Pencil “lead” is not actually lead, but is a soft mineral called graphite, bound together with clay and wax.  Don’t get it confused with real lead that might be found in paint chips from homes built before 1978, weights for fishing lines or curtains, decorated pottery, and other sources. If you think a child has swallowed something with real lead in it, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 or the child’s pediatrician right away. 

The lead in colored art pencils is a pigment instead of graphite, held together by wax, oil, or resin.  These pigments are chemicals that are generally considered non-toxic in pencil amounts. 

Colored pencils might stain the mouth or skin, but that is harmless and will wear off by itself. 

If a person is stabbed by a pencil a piece of lead can break off under the skin.  This can cause a permanent colored or blue-grey mark but it is not harmful.   Also, the pencil wound can get infected if it is not kept clean. 

If you find your child has sucked or chewed on a pencil, do not panic.  Take the pencil away from them, wipe out the mouth with a soft, wet cloth and give them some water to drink.

If a child draws on their skin with a pencil or other marker, wash it off with soap and water.  Do not scrub to try to get it off – the scrubbing itself could hurt the skin.

If someone is stabbed by a pencil, wash the area with soap and water and cover with a band aid.  Call the poison center or the child’s doctor for medical advice.  A doctor will probably need to see deep stab wounds that go further than the skin, and any that are close to the eyes.

If you have questions or want some help watching this, call the Missouri Poison Center right away at 1-800-222-1222.  The poison center is open all day, every day for problems and questions just like this.

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