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Kids are now again back to school which marks the time for hoarding up on school supplies. Pencils and crayons are considered to be the staples, usually topping the list of things to buy for school.

But have you ever wondered how they are made? Or even the possibility of them posing a risk to your health?

Get to know these two common writing tools that your kids, or even yourself, fondly use.


How They Came To Be

  • Pencils
    Based on research, the earliest form of a pencil dates back to ancient Rome. It was a thin metal rod called stylus that left a light, but readable mark on papyrus. Another source cites that these lead styluses were used by early Romans to write on waxed tablets.
    pencil, lead, stylus, school supplies, consumer testing, lead poisoning
    Photo taken by Peter van der Sluijs from

    Then in the 1500s, a vast deposit of graphite was discovered in England. It was thought to be some sort of black lead, calling it plumbago, which is derived from the Latin term plumbum meaning lead. This specific discovery paved the way for the type of modern pencil that we know now – one that has graphite rods placed inside a wood that was glued together.
    The graphite stick inside, or the writing core, was traditionally called lead, thus the term lead pencil. Pencils were then mass produced by the 1800s.
  • Crayons
    Did you know that the word crayons was first mentioned in the 16th century in the French language? The term means “chalk pencil”. However, even before the term was coined, research argues that using wax with colors was already practiced by Ancient Egyptians. They would combine hot beeswax with colored pigment to bind color into stone.
    It was also recorded that the legendary artist Leonardo da Vinci used pastels in 1495.
    The first “modern” crayons were apparently created in Europe, which were made from a mixture of charcoal and oil. Crayons evolved as mixing powdered pigments with various hues were then introduced along with other innovations.


Can They Be Toxic?

YES. Tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in 2015 found asbestos in various brands of kids’ crayons, especially those that were manufactured in China. Another case was in 2013 when environmental watchdog Ecowaste Coalition found mercury in various crayons and pencils that were sold in Divisoria, Quiapo and Sta. Cruz in Manila.

On the other hand, a pencil’s lead, also known as its “writing core”, does not actually contain lead. Instead, the toxic compound is present in the color coating or the paint of the pencil itself – the one we love to munch on to, as research suggests.

In the Philippines, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) classified both lead and asbestos as two of the risky chemicals to human health and the environment in the Priority Chemical List (PCL). Various government orders such as the Chemical Control Order (CCO) have also been issued to regulate, control the use and disposal of the said harmful chemicals.

In case you find a suspicious product that may contain these harmful chemicals, you may directly report this by sending an email to or contact the FDA CCRR Customer Service Hotline at (02) 857-1984.

SGS, your partner in consumer watch, offers services that will give you assurance that what you and your loved ones use do not pose potential health risks. SGS Hardline services include materials testing, safety testing, performance testing, and restricted substance testing.

For more inquiries, you can contact us here or drop us a message on our official Facebook page @SGSPhilippines.

About SGS

SGS is the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification company. SGS is recognized as the global benchmark for quality and integrity. With more than 90,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 2,000 offices and laboratories around the world.